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Hurricanes: Science and Society
1635- The Great Colonial Hurricane

The Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635 was a hurricane that hit the Jamestown Settlement and the Massachusetts Bay Colony during August 1635. It is considered to be one of the earliest hurricanes to have struck New England, occurring just 15 years after the discovery of Plymouth Plantation. Although the hurricane’s exact track remains unknown, several historical accounts describe the storm. The storm is first mentioned on August 24, 1635, as it moved rapidly to the east of the Jamestown Colony in Virginia, but did not cause any damage. Massachusetts Bay Governor, John Winthrop, kept a running journal of his experiences in the Boston area at that time. [On August 16/August 26], he described a storm arriving at midnight, blowing with “such violence” and “an abundance of rain”. Historian and writer William Bradford, who lived in Plimoth Plantation, stated that the hurricane “was such a mighty storm of wind and rain as none living in these parts, ever saw… It caused the sea to swell to the southward [of this place] above 20 feet right up and down…” Reverend Richard Mather, who was traveling on the ship the James at the time of the storm, recounted strong, shifting winds while aboard the vessel. A full review of these accounts indicates that the storm made landfall in mid-late August, striking Narragansett, Rhode Island in the morning and then tracking somewhere between Boston and Plymouth, Massachusetts. At this time, the hurricane’s central pressure was 939 mb to 941 mb, with the storm moving northeast at approximately 64.4 km/h (40 mph).

The hurricane produced a storm surge of 4.3-6.1 m (14-20 ft) in Narragansett, RI. Due to strong winds, heavy rainfall, and high tide, hundreds of trees were toppled, homes were destroyed, and ships were blown off their anchors. An estimated 46 (or more) people died, including 8 Native Americans that were thought to be lost in the risen tide of Narragansett Bay. The damage to structures and the losses described were reminiscent of descriptions from the 1938 New England Hurricane, hence, historians believe the intensity of the Great Colonial Hurricane was comparable. Through comparisons with the modern Saffir Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale, it is believed that the storm was a strong Category 3 hurricane.

Fast Facts:

  • Anthony Thacher and his family were passengers on a small boat, the Watch and Wait, that was traveling from Ipswich, England to Marblehead, Massachusetts at the time of the hurricane. The small ship crashed into rocks along Cape Ann, Massachusetts, and 21 passengers, including the Thacher children, perished. Anthony Thacher and his wife were the soul survivors and were stranded on an island for 2-3 days before a rescue boat found them. Since then, this island has been named “Thacher’s Island.”
  • The changing winds of this hurricane not only took ships down, but also helped steer some ships to safety. At the time of the storm, northeast winds were pushing the ship, the James, toward the rocks of Piscataqua, New Hampshire. However, with a sudden shift in winds to the northwest, the boat was pulled away from the rocks, saving all of the passengers and the ship.
  • Hurricane Edna of September 11, 1954 followed a similar path as the Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635. Hurricane Edna caused an estimated $40 million in damage (1954 USD, $325 million 2009 USD) in the New England area, and an estimated 20 direct deaths.


Storm Tides in Twelve Cyclones (including Four Intense New England Hurricanes)
Brian Jarvinen (2006)

Early American Hurricanes- 1492-1870
Pgs. 10-13

The Weather Doctor
Keith C. Heidorn, PhD “The Great Hurricane of 1635”
October 8, 1998 – Revised November 2006

Wikipedia (for Hurricane Edna):

Wikipedia (for Great Colonial Hurricane of 1635):

Seventeenth Century Virginia Hurricanes:

Thacher Island Association (history)