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Hurricane of Independence : The Untold Story of the Deadly Storm at the Deciding Moment of the American Revolution
Hurricane of Independence
THE AMERICAN COLONIES WERE IN THE CLUTCHES OF TWO DEADLY STORMS
Only months before, the first shot of what would become the American Revolution had been fired. But not everyone was committed to battle. The people were caught between a patriotic fervor for the cause of liberty and deep concern about the righteousness of, and the danger in, rebelling against the world's largest empire. And unbeknowst to them, as September 1775 opened, a powerful hurricane was making its way across the Atlantic, one that would test the colonists' strength, resolve, and faith in the rebellion.
Hurricane of Independence is the untold story of a violent storm and the violent birth of a nation. On September 2, 1775, the 8th deadliest Atlantic hurricane of all time landed on American shores. Over the coming days, it would race up the East Coast, striking all of the important colonial capitals and eventually killing more than four thousand people. In an era where hurricanes were viewed as omens from God, what this storm meant to the colonists about the justness of their cause would yield unexpected results.
Hurricane of Independence is the story of the individual people in the eye of the storm and how they saved the American Revolution. From well-known founders like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin to ordinary individuals such as sailors, escaped slaves, farmers, and fishermen, Tony Williams paints a stunning picture of what it meant to live at the opening of the American Revolution and the incredible weight of the choice the people were facing at that deciding moment.
Hurricane of Independence brings to life an incredible moment when the forces of nature and the forces of history came together, and the courageous stories of sacrifice, survival, and strength amidst the fight for freedom.
In his first book, Williams sheds light on the obscure hurricanes that battered America's east coast all the way up to Newfoundland in September 1775. But this account promises more than it delivers: the first vaunted storm at the deciding moment of the American Revolution affected the colonies very little, while the second hurricane hit Canada and killed some 4,000 cod fishermen, but is tangential to the American uprising. Williams consequently presses the storm of war metaphor and fills out the book with lengthy descriptions of what was going on in various American cities hit by the hurricane. He is on surer ground in his discussions about how weather influenced political affairs and its potent religious symbolism. Were the storms evidence of God's desire to punish the rebels for their insolence toward King George III? If so, then why were the British prevented from attacking Dorchester Heights by a fierce storm, and why was Lord Cornwallis's plan to escape from Yorktown frustrated by a powerful gale? Thinner than his first, this book offers some illumination on the colonial worldview, but little on the Revolution. (Aug.) Copyright ? Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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July 31, 2008
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Excerpt from Hurricane of Independence by Tony Williams
Excerpt from Chapter One: Tempest Brewing
Throughout the summer of 1775, the sun scorched the desert sands of the Sahara. Easterly jets of wind raced a few miles up over the barren African terrain across thousands of bleak miles. As the winds hurtled toward the coastline, they became highly unstable and broke into pulsing waves. The waves stretched for up to a thousand miles and flew regularly over the shores of the coast every few days. The people of western Africa were left unawares of their existence except for the barest hint of a gentle breeze. But these winds eventually built into an explosive force half a world away.
The blowing winds jetted out over the blue waters of the Atlantic looking for just the right mysterious conditions to grow into a tropical depression. Some became troughs curving counter-clockwise because of the unfelt rotation of the earth. The infant storms needed desperately to feed on warm water if they were to survive.
The summer sun granted their wish, boiling the cauldron of equatorial Atlantic waters past eighty degrees. The heat sucked water right off the gently roiling ocean. It shot upward, cooling as it rose higher and higher. The vapor lifted miles into the air until it condensed into tiny water droplets that plummeted back toward the ocean whitecaps from whence they came.
Dark cumulonimbus clouds formed, menacing any sailors within sight. The intimidating thunderstorm hurled forked lightning bolts while thunder cracked raucously. Heavy downpours inundated hapless ships as the clouds were seemingly wringed all at once by Mother Nature.
Old, weather-beaten captains at the helms of their ships learned to expect these regular storms off the coast of Africa. The winds provided the propulsion necessary to transport their invaluable consumer and human cargoes across the wine dark sea. Frightened slaves were chained together and packed aboard the holds of ships, soon to replace those who were worked to death under sadistic masters in the brutal climate of the Caribbean sugar islands.
Captains of slave ships calculated the profits that each piece of human property would bring--if they made it to the islands. When squalls erupted suddenly near the Cape Verde Islands, sailors likely were not surprised by this common occurrence, despite the troughs that deceptively hid the storms behind crystal clear weather for many miles in front of them. The storms dropped torrential rain on the soaked men and replenished the water that they had skimmed off the ocean. The storms were harrowing, and many men were lost at sea, but the vast majority of ships came through and continued on to their tropical destinations. As bad as they were, most thunderstorms were spent after a few hours. They soon were replaced by more storms, pounding against other ships sailing along the same path.
A few storms survived, however. The growing tempests gobbled up enormous amounts of warm water that was fed into a swirling vortex that spiraled 'round and 'round, its pressure steadily dropping.
The swirling storm bulged into a monster with a giant eye in the middle of it. It hobbled along patiently around ten miles per hour, paralleling the equator, drawing more ferocity before it struck.
The natives of the Caribbean had a healthy respect for hurricanes and an uncanny understanding of nature. According to their beliefs, the wicked god, Hunraken, annually victimized the island people, inflicting them with destructive winds and deadly floods.
The natives were terrified whenever he made an appearance. They beat drums, shouted curses, and did everything possible to thwart the god and drive him away. Sometimes they successfully frightened him off; at other times his fury could not be withstood and they suffered the consequences.
The natives depicted the fearsome deity on primitive carvings as a hideous creature with swirling arms, ready to whip his winds and claim his prey. Natives had acquired a great store of knowledge through centuries of experience. Pale foreigners who settled on the tropical paradises, though, did not have the same meteorological understanding despite their advanced technology. Hunraken, however, had no regard for skin color: All were quarry for his wrath. On August 25, 1775, the evil god's arms stretched out hundreds of miles, packing winds with furious gusts. The god's arms were bands of rain that engulfed the islands of Martinique. Fierce winds bent trees, littering the ground with their tropical fruit. Large waves of clear water collided against reefs and beaches. Buildings and homes were easily ripped apart and blown down. Two days later, the storm descended upon the island of Santo Domingo. Both islands experienced "much damage" as a result of the "violent gale." The dwindling native population kept its traditions alive by ritualistically fighting the god of winds. But the beating drums of the natives were not strong enough to weaken the storm, nor was the small landmass of the islands. Hunraken gorged himself on the tepid waters and increased in intensity.
Falling pressure raised the ocean beneath the storm into a small dome of water that was hurled against the shallow shoreline of any landmass. For every inch the pressure dropped, the ocean lifted a foot. The hurricane created swells that projected far out to lap against the sands of the North American coastline. But swimming was not yet a leisure sport, and no one gathered on beaches for long vacations. Sailors were the only witnesses to the hurricane that was beginning to make its way up the North American coastline. Even if Hunraken spared their lives, though, they could not outrun the storm to warn anyone of its impending arrival.