IN THE YEAR EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND FIFTEEN
Without modern forecasting methods and early warning systems, residents of Saybrook, Connecticut, were surprised when the first hurricane to strike New England in 180 years came ashore there. Newspaper accounts from the time describe it as a violent storm that toppled church steeples and ripped up fruit trees as far as 85 miles inland. All along the coast from Long Island to New England, wooden shipping warehouses and vessels were flattened or swept out to sea.
In Providence, Rhode Island, an 11-foot storm surge combined with the incoming tide to destroy 500 houses and 35 ships, damaging at least a quarter of the taxable property in the town. A plaque on the town’s Market House points out the high-water mark. Moses Brown, a Rhode Island merchant, claimed $1 million in losses.
Thankfully, the loss of life was minor for most towns. Newspapers listed ships lost but included few names of people injured or killed. Nature’s fury is visible in Rhode Island painter John Russell Bartlett’s The Great September Gale of 1815. And you can attribute the charming — and sturdy — stone buildings in Providence and other waterfront towns to this great gale.