Lesser Known Florida Hurricanes: Jupiter Inlet (1696)

The Atlantic hurricane season is once again upon us. It’s time for preparation… and a little history.

Some of the most famous storms in the annals of hurricane history made landfall in Florida. The Sunshine State is certainly not alone in suffering from tropical weather; Hugo, Gilbert, Katrina, Mitch, and Sandy immediately come to mind.

We remember the devastation from Andrew, Charley, Donna, Jeanne, Francis and many others, but what about the lesser known hurricanes in Florida history? This series of blog posts takes a look back at lesser known hurricanes and other tidbits concerning tropical weather in Florida history.

Today, we take a look back at the Jupiter Inlet Hurricane of 1696 as described by Jonathan Dickinson.

Excerpt from "Insulae Americanae in Oceano Septentrionali ac Regiones Adiacentes..." by Nicolaes Visscher (1680)

Excerpt from “Insulae Americanae in Oceano Septentrionali ac Regiones Adiacentes…” by Nicolaes Visscher (1680)

On September 23, 1696, a hurricane of unknown strength impacted South Florida. Jonathan Dickinson, a Quaker merchant, and several of his traveling companions aboard the bark Reformation fell victim to the high seas whipped up by the storm. Tossed and battered by persistent wind and waves, the Reformation wrecked on a sandbar near what is today known as Jupiter Inlet. Dickinson survived the ordeal and wrote a journal about his experience. Below is an excerpt from his account describing the hurricane and subsequent shipwreck:

“About one o’clock in the morning we felt our vessel strike some few stokes, and then she floated again for five of six minutes before she ran fast aground, where she beat violently at first. The wind was so violent and it was very dark, that our mariners could see no land; the seas broke over us that we were in a quarter of an hour floating in the cabin: we endeavored to get a candle lighted, which in a little time was accomplished.

“By this time we felt the vessel not to strike so often but several of her timbers were broken and some plank started. The seas continued breaking over us and no land to be seen; we concluded to keep in the vessel as long as she would hold together. About the third hour this morning we supposed we saw land at some considerable distance, and at this time we found the water began to run out of the vessel.

“And at daylight we perceived we were upon the shore, on a beach lying in the breach of the sea which at times as the surges of the sea reversed was dry. In taking a view of our vessel, we found that the violence of the weather had forced many sorts of seabirds on board our vessel, some of which were by force of the wind blown into and under our hen-cubs and many remained alive. Our hogs and sheep were washed away and swam on shore, except one of the hogs which remained in the vessel.

“We rejoiced at this our preservation from the raging sea; but at the same instant feared the sad consequences that followed: yet having hopes still we got our sick and lame on shore, also our provisions, with spars and sails to make a tent.”

The party encountered local Native Americans known as the Jaega soon after reaching dry land. Over the next two months the survivors endured an arduous journey along the Florida coast. In early October they were captured by the Santa Luces, a band of Ais Indians who lived in modern-day St. Lucie and Indian River counties. Dickinson’s descriptions of Jaega and Ais ceremonies are similar to other captivity narratives and offer tremendous insight into the customs and rituals of indigenous Floridians.

"The Florida Indians Capture the Shipwrecked Company," from Pieter van der Aa, Naaukeuirge Versameling der Gedenk-waardigste Zee en Landreysen na Oost en West-Indien (1707)

“The Florida Indians Capture the Shipwrecked Company,” from Pieter van der Aa, Naaukeuirge Versameling der Gedenk-waardigste Zee en Landreysen na Oost en West-Indien (1707)

Eventually, the tired and weary travelers were escorted to St. Augustine. There, the Spaniards arranged for passage to Charleston (then known as Charles Town) and thence to Philadelphia, their original destination. As suggested by the title of Dickinson’s journal, he attributed their survival to “God’s Protecting Providence.”

To learn more, see Evangeline Walker Andrews and Charles McLean Andrews, eds., Jonathan Dickinson’s Journal, Or God’s Protecting Providence… (Yale University Press, 1945).