Log Lines hopes its readers stayed dry, or at least safe, on Monday as Hurricane Sandy roared across the Northeast. Storms like this are nothing new to the eastern seaboard, of course, and for as long as anyone has cared to record such things, strong weather events (as the meteorologists like to call them) have thrilled and terrified us.

One of the more destructive storms to hit New England churned its way here in September 1815.  The term “hurricane” had not yet entered the American lexicon, and people dubbed this storm “The Great September Gale.”  It was a powerful storm, by all accounts- the equivalent of a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 135 mph.  It made landfall near Center Moriches, Long Island, crossed Long Island Sound, and slammed into Connecticut.

As is often the case, the tidal surge associated with the storm did the greatest damage.  According to a report from the Newburyport, Massachusetts newspaper, Providence, Rhode Island bore the brunt of the surge. “[U]pwards of one hundred houses, stores, &c. were destroyed in the gale; … the tide rose upward of 14 feet;…nearly all the vessels in port were either dismasted, sunk, or driven beyond the bridge, which was also destroyed.”[1]

In Boston, both the town and the shipping in the harbor received considerable damage.  The wind blew down two of the State House’s chimneys, as well as many church steeples, and several houses were entirely unroofed.  Boston’s beautiful trees suffered the most.  “More than twenty of the most stately elms about the common are laid prostrate on the earth.  The Mall furnishes a sight in
which the woodman who goes into his forest only to level it, and prepare for a burn, might take pleasure.” [2]

Early reports listed at least fifty-three vessels in Boston Harbor either sunk or extensively damaged, mainly by coming into contact with the wharves where they were moored.  Constitution had returned to Boston in May after her victory over HMS Cyane and HMS Levant.  Her crew was “paid off” in June and the ship was laid up in ordinary (put in mothballs we might say now).  She was securely moored off the Navy Yard when the gale struck, and played a role in saving one vessel.  The brig Washington, at anchor in the middle of the harbor, dragged her anchors and rammed a ship lying at the end of Union Wharf.  This vessel in turn struck the ship Pactolus
which then bore down toward the mudflats off the Navy Yard.  Pactolus’ quick-thinking crew let go an anchor which fortuitously dragged over Constitution’s stout cable, thereby keeping the merchant ship from being dashed onto the shore. [3] Constitution did not suffer any damage at all.

Luckily, Sandy did as little damage to “Old Ironsides” as the Great Gale.  The old ship weathered the storm with all her masts and yards aloft.  It will be a long time yet before we “give her to the god of storms, the lightening and the gale!”

 

The frigate President riding out a storm in 1802, as depicted by Antoine Roux.  The ship’s crew have sent down the upper yards and “housed” the topmasts to reduce wind resistance aloft.  USS Constitution Museum collection

 

[1] Newburyport Herald,(Newburyport, MA), 26 Sept. 1815.
[2] Ibid.
[3] New York Gazette, (New
York), 27 Sept. 1815.

The Author(s)

USS Constitution Museum
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