The September Gust - by Gail M. Walczyk

Before storms from the tropics were called hurricanes and given names, storms have come from the warmer climates, up the Eastern Coast, making landfall anywhere along the East Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, or Central America.  Also called tropical cyclones, these storms begin as thunderstorms that come off the coast of Africa.  As these storms travel east, they grow into tropical cyclones with the help of warm ocean water. The wind gradually increase in a counter clockwise direction, forming a center or "eye."  Storm whose winds have reached a speed of 74 miles an hour are known today as "Hurricanes."

The "eye" is generally 20 to 30 miles wide, and the storm may extend outward 400 miles.  As a hurricane approaches, the skies will begin to darken and winds will grow in strength.  As a hurricane nears land, it can bring torrential rains, high winds, and storm surges and the winds are out of the northeast.  There is a calm when the "eye" is overhead and the skies are clear.  All of a sudden the skies darken again and the winds then come out of the northwest, sometimes blowing stronger than before.  A single hurricane can last for more than two weeks over open waters and can run a path across the entire length of the eastern seaboard.  August and September are peak months during the hurricane season that lasts from June 1 through November 30.

On 3 September, 1821, one such storm hit the Eastern Shore, probably entering the Chesapeake Bay heading north.  Tales of such storms have traveled in the memories of Shoremen even today.  James Egbert Mears writes of the storm in Hack's Neck and It's People.  He relates a tale of a storm known as "The September Gust," a storm that came up the Bayside.  The tide was so high that "a man who had been fishing near the mouth of the Pungoteague Creek sailed across the lower peninsula [across Slutkill Neck] to the Richard Cutler farm on the north of Nandua Creek."

He goes on to say that in a Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1752 and owned by William Elmer Hutchinson of Harborton [1885-1941], to whom it came through his ancestors, is found on a blank page between the Old and the New Testaments the following entry:  "September 3rd day, in the year 1821, on Monday morning the wind at North East with heavy Rain till after the middle of the day, then the wind shifting to N. N. West, which made the tide overflow all the land and carry away all fences, and it was 12 inches in this house on the lower floor.  Teste. James Eichelberger."  This house was in Prospect Neck, bordering on the south by Pungoteague Creek.

In describing the house known as the "Boggs Place"[A58A] Whitelaw states:  "Bricks in the chimney shown are inscribed as follows:  'September, 1821, blown down, Rebuilt November 1.'"  He adds:  "It is traditional that the house was under construction in the above year when the great September Gust blew down the chimney, so that a fresh start had to be made."  (Ralph T. Whitelaw.  Virginia's Eastern Shore.  A History of Northampton and Accomack Counties.  Camden, MA: Picton Press, 1989;  p. 822).

Storms like this are mentioned in Bibles, diaries and talked about for years.  The winds and tide of this storm were so great it even earned  recognition on bricks.

© Copyright 2005-2009 by Gail M. Walczyk

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