In October 1780 the Atlantic Ocean suffered its deadliest hurricane on record. This was before the era of modern data and tracking techniques so it is difficult to ascertain the precise course of the hurricane, but it probably originated at the start of the month somewhere near the Cape Verde Islands in the eastern Atlantic. It then moved westwards and on October 10 slammed into the island of Barbados in the West Indies.
The island was buffeted relentlessly by winds of over 300 kph (200 mph) which stripped the bark off trees and tossed heavy cannons into the air. British Admiral Lord Rodney described the scene in a letter to his wife: ‘The strongest buildings and the whole of the houses, most of which were stone, and remarkable for their solidity, gave way to the fury of the wind, and were torn up to their foundations.’
For the next seven days the hurricane continued to cut a swathe of destruction through many other islands in the eastern Caribbean, touching on Puerto Rico and Hispaniola also before eventually turning northeast and heading back out to the Atlantic. Thousands of islanders lost their lives and it was years before the local economies recovered.
Caught up in the havoc and devastation were ships of the British, French and Dutch navies which had been vying for control of territorial waters while the American War of Independence raged. Lord Rodney, in fact, was in command of the British fleet which was anchored off St Lucia when the hurricane struck; eight of his ships were sunk and hundreds of sailors killed.
When did the Great Atlantic hurricane happen: October 10-17 1780
Where did the Great Atlantic hurricane happen: Eastern Caribbean islands and Atlantic Ocean
What was the Great Atlantic’s Hurricane death toll: More than 22,000
You should know: Two other severe storms caused loss of life in the same month, making October 1780 an exceptional month even by the standards of the hurricane season.