Susan’s Journey

Have you ever passed by a beautiful old house, a rusty car or a sailboat up on blocks and wondered, ‘What was that thing like when it was new? Who used it, and what did they use it for?’

The staff members of the Florida Merchant Marine Survey must have had that feeling in 1938 or so when they happened upon the dry-rotting remains of the Susan, a 14.7-foot fishing sloop sitting in the sun in a vacant lot in Key West. The point of their survey, designed as a relief work project during the Great Depression, was to compile the history of boats and shipping in Florida and publish a book out of it. The book never came to pass, but the staff still managed to take lots of photos and measurements of historic boats up and down the Florida coast and to trace their histories by talking with locals. They had their work cut out for them with the Susan; her story ended up stretching back more than a century!

Technical Drawings of the Sloop Susan, ca. 1938 (Series 2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

Technical Drawings of the Sloop Susan, ca. 1938 (Series S2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to enlarge it.

The Susan, which likely started out its life either with a different name or no name, was originally built in the Bahamas in 1830 by a farmer living on Current Island, just northeast of Nassau. According to the information gathered by the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, the boat cost about $150 to build, and was made from a combination of pine and oak, with iron fittings. The builder designed Susan for fishing, but in practice he used the boat to carry home produce from his fields on a neighboring island.

Excerpt from Colton's Map of the West Indies (1855), showing the location of the Bahamas in relation to Florida. The approximate location of Current Island is indicated by the red arrow. Click or tap the image to view a zoomable version of the complete map.

Excerpt from Colton’s Map of the West Indies (1855), showing the location of the Bahamas in relation to Florida. The approximate location of Current Island is indicated by the red arrow. Click or tap the image to view a zoomable version of the complete map.

By 1860, the farmer had gotten involved with the pineapple trade, and business was booming. He decided to build himself a larger boat, and he sold the Susan to John Alden, a commercial fisherman in Nassau. Alden operated the boat for 18 years before selling her to a wealthy resident of Nassau named “Tinky” Sturrup, who mainly wanted a vessel to use for exploring the nearby islands.

Deck plan of the Susan drafted by Henry Lechner of the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, circa 1938 (Series 2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

Deck plan of the Susan drafted by Henry Lechner of the Florida Merchant Marine Survey, circa 1938 (Series 2382, State Archives of Florida). Click or tap the image to view a larger version.

A violent storm in 1895 prompted Sturrup to give up pleasure boating, and he sold the vessel to John Francis Pierce, Jr. of Key West for $100. Pierce was a commercial fisherman who had lost two of his own boats in the same storm that shook up Mr. Sturrup. It also appears that the two men may have known each other prior to the sale. John Francis Pierce was born in the Bahamas, and his brother in law was Robert G. Sturrup. It is unclear whether Robert was the “Tinky” who had acquired the boat from John Alden. At any rate, Pierce sailed the boat back to Key West by himself and used it for years to fish for grouper, yellowtail and snapper. It’s also likely that Pierce was the man to actually name the boat Susan. His wife, who was also born in the Bahamas, was named Susan A. Pinder.

During this latter phase of the boat’s life, Susan performed admirably under some tough conditions. A number of strong storms battered Key West in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, but none managed to seriously damage the sloop, not even the 1909 hurricane that destroyed 400 structures and killed at least 17 people, including men working on Flagler’s Over-the-Sea Railway. As the water began to rise ahead of that storm, Pierce floated the Susan three blocks up Petronia Street near his home and tied her down. When the skies cleared, buildings had been smashed and the streets were filled with debris, but the old sloop was fine to continue its service.

West end of Caroline Street in Key West after the 1909 hurricane.

West end of Caroline Street in Key West after the 1909 hurricane.

John Francis Pierce, Jr. died in 1922, and the 92-year-old Susan passed to his son, Ernest, who continued to use the boat for commercial fishing. The vessel was finally beginning to show its age, however, and in 1925 it was hauled onto shore and stored in a vacant lot, where it remained until the Florida Merchant Marine Survey discovered it in the 1930s.

The Susan is just one of many vessels from all over the state that were carefully documented by the Florida Merchant Marine Survey. The State Archives holds many of the records produced in the process, including short histories, pen and ink sketches, schematic drawings and deck plans, and a partial census of registered boats in service in 1938. Take a look at the collection to see if your Florida county is represented!

Trick-or-Treat for Disaster Relief

Are you thinking about how you can donate to the continued relief of the thousands of people affected by the recent scourge of hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires? This Halloween, you might consider doing what a group of Tallahassee third graders did in 1989 and transform the anticipated custom of trick-or-treating into a grassroots pledge drive. Florida’s news media was there to capture this sweet story and the State Library and Archives of Florida has since preserved newspaper and television coverage of the students’ activism.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

View of collapsed and burned buildings at Beach and Divisadero in the Marina District in San Francisco after the Loma Prieta earthquake, October 17, 1989. Photograph courtesy of Wikimedia commons via U.S. Department of the Interior U.S. Geological Survey.

In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo ripped through Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Georgia and South Carolina, leaving 27 dead and countless others displaced. A few weeks later, Hurricane Jerry slammed into the Gulf Coast of Texas, killing three, including Tallahassee native and Coast Guard Seaman Dan Lindley and his two-year-old daughter Selina. Then, on October 17, the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the San Francisco Bay to its core, claiming the lives of 200, injuring over 400 and causing millions in property damage. With natural disasters affecting people across the United States and the Caribbean, charitable organizations mobilized to raise money and donations for relief.

Clipping from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat, dating back to the early twentieth century. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Headline clipped from the Tallahassee Democrat, October 26, 1989. The State Library of Florida holds microfilm copies of the Tallahassee Democrat and its previous iterations dating from the early twentieth century to present. Posted with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat. Florida Memory has digitized and made searchable online 50,000 photographs from the Tallahassee Democrat Collection, ranging in date from the 1950s to the 1970s.

At Sealey Elementary in Tallahassee, third-grader Kelly Collette had a creative idea for how they could turn Halloween into a fundraiser for natural disaster victims. Two weeks before the October 31st holiday, Collette stood up in front of her classmates in teacher Sharon Hartman’s language arts class and suggested that they trick-or-treat for money instead of candy and donate the proceeds to the American Red Cross. The proposal went to a vote on the classroom floor. While it was not unanimously affirmed, with one sweet-toothed youngster commenting that “A lot of people would rather have the candy,” the majority of students agreed to forego their candy for a cause. “We want to help those people instead of getting candies and cavities and toothaches,” said eight-year-old Meg Wood to Tallahassee Democrat reporter Kathleen Laufenberg.

The organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson. Photograph by Phil Cole, Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

The youthful organizers of the Halloween donation drive, from left Kelly Collette, Hamilton Gilberg, Matthew Cooper and Rebecca Nelson, October 26, 1989. Photograph by Phil Coale/Tallahassee Democrat. Reproduced with permission from the editorial staff of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Nineteen third-graders strong, the trick-or-treating for disaster relief campaign got underway. After registering with the Red Cross, the kids in Miss Hartman’s class made collections bags, drew posters and wrote letters to other students, asking them to join in on the Halloween fundraiser. Impressed by her students’ initiative, Hartman said that organizing the natural disaster relief drive was a “great learning experience,” exposing budding minds to the ins and outs of social action.

Although it is unclear just how much money the students raised for the Red Cross, they did not go hungry after all.

On Halloween morning, a gaggle of costume-clad kids arrived in their classroom to prepare for a big night of fundraising. The story had already attracted the attention of a few local media outlets and the now-defunct Florida News Service came by the school to interview the students about their initiative. After the Florida News Service folded in 1991, the State Archives of Florida acquired a collection of 222 master story tapes, including colorful coverage of this harrowing Halloween story. In the middle of the segment, surprise visitor Raleigh Mackoul, president of the state tobacco and candy association, walked through the door with several pounds of sweet treats.

Mackoul said that after hearing about the plan from a Tallahassee lobbyist, he “thought that it was pretty good that the kids would give up going around to collect their Halloween treats to go collect money for the disaster victims….I didn’t think they ought to go through Halloween without candy.”

Want to help with this year’s natural disaster relief efforts?

Visit Volunteer Florida’s website for a comprehensive list of agencies in need of donations. Volunteer Florida, in partnership with the Division of Emergency Management, is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.

Share Your Digital Photos: Hurricane Irma

Hurricanes NamesNow that Irma has passed, it will be remembered alongside Camille, Andrew, and Charley as one of many hurricanes that have shaped Florida’s history. Help the State Archives preserve that history by donating your digital images of preparation, damage, volunteers, shelters, recovery and other effects of this event. To learn more about donations, please see below.

What are the digital photograph specifications?

  • File Format: TIFF, JPEG, RAW
  • Megapixel: Minimum 5MP

Can I donate photographs taken with my phone?

Probably. The camera on your mobile device may produce images of a high enough quality to meet our minimum requirements. Most modern devices, including iPhones (4 and newer), iPads (3 and newer), and many Android devices by Samsung, Motorola and Sony take photographs at a minimum resolution of 5 megapixels. Check your phone’s specifications to verify that it provides the appropriate quality for images.

Will my photos be put on Florida Memory?

It is possible, but not all photographs donated to the State Archives appear on Florida Memory.

How do I donate my digital photographs?

Donors are asked to sign a Deed of Gift (PDF, 2 pages) transferring legal custody of the records to the State Archives and any copyright interests they hold in the records, thus allowing the Archives to make the records fully accessible to the public for historical research. Send all photos, along with the deed of gift, as attachments to the Archives by email at archives@dos.myflorida.com.

Share Your Digital Photos: Hurricane Matthew

Hurricanes NamesNow that Matthew has passed, it will be remembered alongside Camille, Andrew, and Charley as one of many hurricanes that have shaped Florida’s history. Help the State Archives preserve that history by donating your digital images of damage, flooding, and other effects of this event. To learn more about donations, please see below.

What are the digital photograph specifications?

  • File Format: TIFF, JPEG, RAW
  • Megapixel: Minimum 5MP

Can I donate photographs taken with my phone?

Probably. The camera on your mobile device may produce images of a high enough quality to meet our minimum requirements. Most modern devices, including iPhones (4 and newer), iPads (3 and newer), and many Android devices by Samsung, Motorola and Sony take photographs at a minimum resolution of 5 megapixels. Check your phone’s specifications to verify that it provides the appropriate quality for images

Will my photos be put on Florida Memory?

It is possible, but not all photographs donated to the State Archives appear on Florida Memory.

How do I donate my digital photographs?

Donors are asked to sign a Deed of Gift (PDF, 2 pages) transferring to the State Archives legal custody of the records and any copyright interests they hold in the records, thus allowing the Archives to make the records fully accessible to the public for historical research. Send all photos, along with the deed of gift, as attachments to the Archives by email at archives@dos.myflorida.com.

What’s in a Hurricane’s Name?

Does a hurricane’s name really matter?  In the 1970s, Vice-President of the National Organization of Women (NOW) Roxcy Bolton certainly thought so. At that time the National Weather Service (NWS) selected exclusively feminine names to identify hurricanes. To the leading Florida feminist, who preferred the term “him-icane,” the established hurricane naming practice constituted a “slur on women,” with no place in the emerging women’s liberation movement. Ever a woman of action, Roxcy Bolton weathered stormy opposition for the better part of the 1970s, working to revise the gendered naming of hurricanes and challenge social perceptions of women.

Satirical cartoon of Roxcy Bolton and the NOW campaign to stop only using female names to identify hurricanes. Cartoonist Dave Cross drew this rendition of Bolton, and it appeared in the local news section of the Miami Herald on March 28, 1970.

Satirical cartoon of Roxcy Bolton and the NOW campaign against the exclusive use of female names to identify hurricanes. Cartoonist Dave Cross drew this rendition of Bolton, which appeared in the local news section of the Miami Herald on March 28, 1970.

More hurricanes have hit Florida than any other state in the Union. While the National Hurricane Center dates the first recorded tempest to hit Florida to 1523, the trend of naming them after women did not start until 1953. The first, Hurricane Barbara, swept through the Outer Banks of North Carolina in August of that year. For the next twenty-five hurricane seasons, memorable “female” hurricanes like Donna (1960), Carla (1961), Inez (1966), and Gladys (1968) would claim responsibility for numerous Floridians’ deaths and the physical destruction of countless Florida communities. Roxcy Bolton, Coral Gables resident and founding member of the Miami-Dade Chapter of NOW, took stock of the all-female cast of the mid-twentieth century’s deadliest storms: “I’m sick and tired of hearing that ‘Cheryl was no lady and she devastated such and such town’ or ‘Betsy annihilated this or that,’ ” she told the press.

Remains of a Coral Cove home after Hurricane Donna swept through Florida in September 1960.

Remains of a Coral Cove home after Hurricane Donna swept through Florida in September 1960.

Bolton took her initial stand after the NWS released the predetermined list of names for the 1970 hurricane season. Alma was at the top, followed by Becky, Celia, Dorothy, Ella, and a number of other traditional feminine names all the way through to Wilna. Determined to dismantle the naming pattern, Bolton made a personal trip down to the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami and demanded immediate name-changes. “Women are not disasters, destroying life and communities and leaving a lasting devastating effect,” she argued. Assistant Director of the NHC Arnold Sugg refused to alter the list, claiming “[n]o more can it [hurricane names of 1970] be changed than people can stop the Vietnam War…. [I]t’s practically impossible to make a change this late in the year.” Sugg further minimized her request, noting that the National Hurricane Center received few complaints and instead explained that “mail from women runs about 8 or 9 to one in favor of feminine names.  A lot of women even ask us to name hurricanes for them.” Unmoved by the NHC’s rationalizations, Bolton suggested those women to be “too conditioned” and unaware of the social consequences of their requests, making the case that “[a]s long as people can name [hurricanes] after us it’s just another way of putting women down…. In 1970 it is time to take women seriously as human beings.”

Letter from NOW to the National Hurricane Center demanding an end to the gendered naming of tropical cyclones. March 1970.

Letter from NOW to the National Hurricane Center demanding an end to the gendered naming of tropical cyclones. March 1970.

As she mounted her hurricane campaign, Bolton and other members of NOW repeatedly wrote the NWS with suggestions for alternative, less derogatory formulae for hurricane-naming. First, she publicized her distaste for the term “hurricane,” which she asserted sounded too much like “her-icane,” referring to them as “him-icanes” instead. From there, she advocated for the idea of naming hurricanes (or him-icanes) solely after U.S. senators. Associate Director of the NWS, Karl Johanssen scoffed at the idea, asking the forty-six-year-old NOW vice-president if it was her intention to “cast a slur on U.S. Senators.” “No, it’s just that senators delight in having things named after them,” she quipped. In an attempt at compromise, Johanssen suggested an alternating system in which men’s names be used one year, and women’s in the next.  Bolton didn’t budge, retorting “we’ve already been blessed for 18 years, enough is enough.” She also proposed the idea of naming hurricanes after birds, but this, too, was rejected by the NWS on the grounds that it might offend the Audubon Society. Though critics accused Bolton of fabricating a gender inequality issue over the allegedly innocent naming of tropical tempests after women, she later recalled that the hurricane campaign reflected the broader goals of feminism in the early 1970s. Bolton assessed that at that time feminism was “as much about changing the role and attitudes toward [women] as putting money in their pockets.”

Letter from Roxcy Bolton to Director of the National Hurricane Center Robert H. Simpson, suggesting alternatives for identifying tropical cyclones. January 2, 1972.

Letter from Roxcy Bolton to Director of the National Hurricane Center, Robert H. Simpson, suggesting alternatives for identifying tropical cyclones. January 2, 1972.

Finally, in 1978 the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the federal agency overseeing the NWS and the NHC, heeded Roxcy Bolton’s requests. “Some women suggested that the naming procedure was sexist. I believe that to be true,” admitted NOAA administrator Richard Frank. NOAA ultimately agreed to a new system of generating an alternating male-female list of names every six years — a system that still remains in place today. However, Bolton maintained that she was not exactly “enthusiastic” about naming tropical cyclones after men or women because of “the negative image it projects.”  1979 would be the first hurricane season to include both male and female names. On this innovation, which garnered both national and international attention, the Christian Science Monitor concluded: “While [it] may not go down in the annals of women’s liberation as a milestone, it nevertheless is lauded by some feminists as a small victory for womankind and, they would hasten to add, mankind.” The first “male” hurricane, Bob, made landfall in Louisiana on July 11 1979. Hurricanes David, Frederic, Gloria, and Henri rounded out the 1979 season. Since then, infamous Florida hurricanes like Andrew (1992) and Ivan (2004) have joined Jeanne (2004) and Wilma (2005) in the recent memory of Florida’s most destructive natural disasters.

Roxcy Bolton speaking with Director of the National Hurricane Center Robert Simpson about the hurricane-naming issue in January 1972.

Roxcy Bolton speaking with Director of the National Hurricane Center Robert Simpson about the hurricane-naming issue in January 1972. Photograph courtesy of the Associated Press.

Pressuring weather officials to forego the tradition of using exclusively feminine sobriquets for hurricanes is just one of many of Roxcy Bolton’s contributions to gender equality in Florida. For additional resources on Roxcy Bolton’s involvement in the women’s liberation movement be sure to check out some of the highlights from the State Archives of Florida’s Roxcy Bolton Collection (M94-1) in our online exhibit “Roxcy Bolton: A Force for Equality.”

Shipwreck of the Atocha

It was June 13, 1971. Don Kincaid, who had been diving off the coast of the Florida Keys, made his way to the surface with a handful of something shiny, coiled up like a small snake. He climbed aboard the work boat Virgalona with the aid of a ladder, and excitedly spread his find out for his colleagues to see.
Read more »

New Accession Spotlight: 1926 Miami Hurricane Letter

Collections Management staff at the State Archives of Florida spends much of their time bringing new collections into the Archives and readying them for public access. Though the majority of our holdings document the activities and functions of Florida’s territorial and state government, the Archives also preserves and makes available papers, journals, photographs, sound recordings, and other materials created by private individuals and organizations.

Despite the fact that our most recent manuscript donation consists of only one item, its provides a strong first person account of significant events in Florida history. This prompted staff to quickly digitize and transcribe the item for inclusion on the Florida Memory website.

Excerpt from a letter describing the 1926 Miami Hurricane

The donation consists of a single hand-written letter describing hurricanes that hit southern Florida on September 18 and October 21, 1926. Written by “Kaye” from the Floridian Hotel, Miami Beach, to Louise Webber (d. 1993) of Bangor, Maine, the twelve page account details Kaye’s activities both during and in the aftermath of the storms.

Excerpt from page 3: "There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall in the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside."

Excerpt from page 3: “There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall. In the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside.”

Kaye began with a brief account of the October 21st storm before plunging into the events of September 18th and the days that followed. While it is known from the letter that Kaye was a resident and employee of The Floridian Hotel, her exploits detail conditions beyond the Floridian, especially during her walk across the causeway and to Hollywood in search of “her folks.”

Do you have original materials related to significant people, places, or events in Florida history? Learn more about donating them to the State Archives of Florida.

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).

Lesser Known Florida Hurricanes: Pensacola Bay (1559)

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 look back at the storm that derailed Spanish attempts to establish a colony at Pensacola Bay in 1559.

Read more »

Lesser Known Florida Hurricanes: West Florida (1772)

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 look back at Bernard Romans’ account of the West Florida Hurricane of 1772.

Excerpt from Romans’ “A General Map of the Southern British Colonies in America…” (1776), showing the area effected by the West Florida Hurricane of 1772

Excerpt from Romans’ “A General Map of the Southern British Colonies in America…” (1776), showing the area effected by the West Florida Hurricane of 1772

Between August 30 and September 3, 1772, a powerful hurricane battered West Florida. Bernard Romans—naturalist, cartographer, soldier, and author of A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida (1775)—wrote a vivid account of the storm. At the time the hurricane struck the northern Gulf coast, British Florida stretched from St. Augustine on the Atlantic Ocean, all the way to the Mississippi River near New Orleans. The British administered the colony as two provinces: East and West Florida.

Romans’ notes on the 1772 West Florida Hurricane are believed to be the only published account of the storm. Below is an excerpt from A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida, pages 4-5:

“The fatal hurricane of August 30, 31, September 1, 2, 3, anno 1772, was severely felt in West Florida, it destroyed the woods for about 30 miles from the sea coast in a terrible manner… [I]n Pensacola it did little or no mischief except the breaking down of all the wharfs but one; but farther westward, it was terrible… [A]t Mobile every thing was in confusion, vessels, boats, and goods were drove up in to the streets a great distance…all the vegetables were burned up by the salt water…all the lower floors of the houses were covered with water…”

Romans went on to describe the destruction of plantations near New Orleans on the Mississippi River and the hardships faced by residents of the area.

To learn more, see Bernard Romans, A Concise Natural History of East and West Florida… (University of Florida Press, 1962 [1775]).