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How a Hurricane Shaped World History

Bob Henson, a meteorologist and journalist based in Boulder, Colorado, published a fascinating a story in The Washington Post on September 26, 2020. It makes good weekend reading. The story is about a 17-year old boy named Alexander Hamilton, living on the island of St. Croix, when a hurricane struck it on August 31, 1772.

Alexander Hamilton, Portrait by John Trumbull

Hurricane Article Establishes Hamilton’s Creds as Writer

Says Henson, “The hurricane — probably at least a Category 3 in St. Croix, according to a leading weather historian — prompted a teenage Alexander Hamilton to write an evocative description of the storm published in a local newspaper. Impressed by his essay, leaders of the Caribbean island took up a collection to send him to the American Colonies for formal education. The rest is history…”

Hamilton literally wrote his way off the island.

Bob Henson in The Washington Post

Hamilton’s Account of the Storm

Hamilton wrote: “It seemed as if a total dissolution of nature was taking place. The roaring of the sea and wind, fiery meteors flying about it in the air, the prodigious glare of almost perpetual lightning, the crash of the falling houses, and the ear-piercing shrieks of the distressed, were sufficient to strike astonishment into Angels. A great part of the buildings throughout the Island are levelled to the ground, almost all the rest very much shattered; several persons killed and numbers utterly ruined; whole families running about the streets, unknowing where to find a place of shelter; the sick exposed to the keeness of water and air without a bed to lie upon, or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbours entirely bare. In a word, misery, in all its most hideous shapes, spread over the whole face of the country.”

Busiest Hurricane Season in History

Michael Chenoweth, a climate historian quoted in the article, believes that the storm grew into a Category 4 hurricane and may have been one of the five strongest hurricanes in the Atlantic before 1900. Chenoweth also believes that the decade of that storm ties for the busiest in history.

Reading Henson’s article I felt compelled to dig more into the history of Hamilton and St. Croix.

History of St. Croix

St. Croix has been a territory of the United States since 1917. Columbus discovered the island in 1493, but the Spanish never colonized the island. Denmark, England, Norway and France jostled for possession of the island in the 1600s. For nearly 200 years, Saint Croix, St. Thomas and St. John were known as the Danish West Indies. In 1916, Denmark sold Saint Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John to the United States in the Treaty of the Danish West Indies. The cost: US$25 million in gold.

 Hamilton’s Contributions

Hamilton’s ideas are credited with laying the foundation for American government and finance.  He was:

  • An American statesman, politician, legal scholar, military commander, lawyer, banker, and economist.
  • One of the Founding Fathers of the United States.
  • New York’s delegate to the Constitutional Congress.
  • Our first Secretary of the Treasury.
  • Founder of the nation’s financial system.
  • An influential interpreter and promoter of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Commanding General of the US Army
  • Active in ending the legality of the international slave trade

Reshaping History

Hamilton campaigned against Aaron Burr, whom he felt was unprincipled. Hamilton died in a duel with Burr in New Jersey in 1804, but not before shaping the nation that would shape world history.

Had it not been for that hurricane in 1772, he might have died an orphan on St. Croix. And who knows how different history might have been?

Posted by Bob Rehak on 9/27/2020

1125 Days since Hurricane Harvey