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Northeast Hurricane of 1804

On October 9, 1804, a hurricane passed over eastern Massachusetts, causing tremendous damage to property and killing several people. Rooftops were blown off, with ships along the coast tossed onto the shore and many docks and wharves destroyed due to a tidal surge. The hurricane became known as the Storm of October 1804.  If the storm occurred today, the damage could probably be measured in the tens of millions of dollars. This tempest is most famous for toppling the steeple of the Old North Church in Boston.

More than a dozen people were likely killed, with an unofficial count of 9. Many ships left the harbors of Massachusetts to ride out the storm, and it was feared that many vessels were lost at sea.

The storm can be described as a N'oreaster in its late stages, with The Perfect Storm being a comparable weather event in modern history. It actually began to snow in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts and also in Maine as the hurricane became extra-tropical. The Friday October 12, 1804 edition of the Newburyport Herald describes the storm in detail (as reported in the Boston Centinel): 

DISTRESSING STORM.

On Tuesday last, came on a gale accompanied with torrents of rain, almost unprecedented in the annals of our country – the wind was from N.E. and N.N.E. – it increased towards night; much damage was apprehended to shipping coming on to the coast; and indeed this has not been trifling. (See marine head.) No buildings in [Newburyport], have been injured that we have heard of; the poplars that adorn the streets have received much injury, as well as the fences.

IN NEWBURY,

The tempest was experienced with equal severity by the farmer in the fields, as by the merchant in his shipping in this vicinity; though not so fatal to human lives in the former. – Fences, stacks of hay, and even buildings were demolished; and what is still more surprising in an autumnal storm; we have been credibly informed, that in a small compass, thirty head of cattle perished, and it was the opinion of our informant that in the town 100 head must have met the same fate. – Several cows died at Mr. Boardman's farm.

FROM BOSTON,

Tremendous Storm. – The wind blew at first from S.S.E. then shifted to E. increasing its power until 4 o'clock, when it abated for a few moments, and then veered to N.E. From this quarter, the gale blew with a violence and fury unprecedented in the annals of this town. The damage which has been sustained by this tremendous hurricane, can not at present be estimated; but is very great and extensive. We have taken some pains to collect the following, as a statement, which though it may not embrace every item, is not deficient in essential points, [here follows the injury done to 27 vessels lying at the various wharves from Charlestown Bridge to the South flats; some lost their bowsprits, others were more slightly injured.]

On the Flats, Fore [Fort] Point Channel, two eastern schooners, with lumber, lost their bowsprits and foremasts; a sloop (lighter) belonging to Mr. Franks, sunk near the channel; a lad by the name of Smith, who had been attempting to keep her free of water, finding the vessel sinking, clung to a plank, from which he was soon after washed off and drowned. Several boats went off and attempted to save him, but their exertions were fruitless.

The schooner Louisiana, Laubet, schooner Nancy, Perkins, of Penobscot, were drove from their anchorage, and drifted to Dorchester flats without receiving any injury.

Two schooners, two sloops, and two lighters, were also driven on shore near South Boston Bridge.

Fears are entertained of the loss of the ship Protector, of New York; the pilot left her at 12 o'clock on Monday night, and he thinks she could not weather the Cape. A ship was seen off Scituate on Tuesday about noon.

The damage sustained in the interior of the town has been considerable; scarcely a tree, particularly the poplars which ornamented almost every yard and garden, is standing; many of the houses are unroofed, and some of the new buildings are so much bent and twisted, that if they do not fall of themselves, they must be taken down; among these is one belonging to Mr. Jonathan Loring, at West Boston, and another to Jonathan Mason, Esq. The kitchen part of the house now occupied by Mr. Chapotin in Summer Street, was unroofed, the chimney blown down, and much damage done to his furniture. The roof of the tower of the Chapel was wrenched off by the violence of the wind, and carried 200 feet, before it fell.

A large and new brick dwelling house, at West Boston, belonging to Mr. Ebenezer Eaton, has been greatly injured, and must, it is expected, be taken down. In stating this particular, we have to lament an occurrence, which proved fatal to one of his family, and had well nigh affected the whole, in a similar manner. Mr. Eaton lived in an adjoining house; and was unconscious of the danger that hung over him; Mr. Jonathan Loring who resided in the neighborhood, apprised him of the insecurity of his family while the gale continued, and after repeated and urgent intreaties prevailed on him to remove his wife and children; in a few moments after the battlements of the new house blew over, and fell, with a large part of the upper story, directly upon the building which they had just left in the house; among whom was a servant woman by the name of Bennet, killed, and another woman with a man and boy, badly wounded.

The North Church steeple, which experienced the power of the gale on Tuesday night, fell on an adjoining house and crushed it to pieces. The family who rented the house were all of them fortunately on a visit at the time, or they must have perished amid the ruins.

One of the Western Stages, in passing West Boston bridge, was upset by the force of the wind, and several of the passengers considerably hurt.

In Charlestown, considerable damage has been sustained by the late storm. The Baptist meeting house is partly unroofed, and the spire of the Rev. Dr. Morse's meeting house very much bent; but being newly and strongly built, the steeple stood the gale. The new brick building in the U.S. Navy Yard, is so far injured, that it must be taken down, if it does not fall of itself; a large dwelling house belonging to Mr. John Hartis, and another to Mr. Bolton, are blown down; most of the brick yards are considerably injured, and a large quantity of the bricks destroyed. The shipping experienced no damage.

FROM MARBLEHEAD,

Accounts from Marblehead inform, that the gale of Tuesday last, has proved, it is feared, fatal to a number of vessels that were blown out of the harbor, and to every one that was approaching it, immediately previous to the commencement of the hurricane. Twenty or thirty sail, riding at anchor in the harbor, were drove ashore on the S.W. beach; from whence it is expected they will be got off without suffering any essential injury.

FROM SALEM.

Letters from this place state, that the storm was severely felt during the whole of Tuesday, and until Wednesday morning. Every vessel in the harbour was driven on shore; but fortunately in a situation where they experienced but little damage. Several chimnies were blown down, particularly the whole range in Mr. Gray's new house, and considerable damage done to a number of the houses in that town.

The spire of Beverly meeting-house has been blown down, and considerable damage done to many of the houses in town. The shipping rode out the gale in safety.

FROM GLOUCESTER.

Our intelligence from Gloucester, (Cape Ann) presents us with a continuance of the dreadful waste and destruction which has resulted from the late storm. The following particulars were handed us by a gentleman who left that place Wednesday morning:

'Near Fresh Water Cove, a Kennebunk stoop, loaded with rum, is entirely lost, with a lady passenger on board, the master and crew saved; a schooner belonging to Connecticut, loaded with corn, entirely gone to pieces, people saved; several others ashore six vessels cut away their masts, among them an English ship from Newfoundland; four or five others were driven out of the harbor, and it is supposed are lost, with their crews; three small fishing schooners were driven from Manchester bay, and are probably lost. Fears are entertained for the safety of the Fishing Craft on the North part of the Cape as they were exposed to the severity of the gale and must have encountered every difficulty in finding safe harbors.' Our informant being from Cape Ann harbor only is enabled to furnish no particulars of the fate of this numerous and valuable fleet of vessels."

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