Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Alexander Hamilton's "Hurricane Letter"







Viewing clips of Dorian's destruction of the Bahamas, with 48 hours of pounding winds and storm surges, I remembered Alexander Hamilton's experience on St. Croix. He, aged 16-17, survived what must have been an extremely violent hurricane.




Christiansted, September 6, 1772
From the Royal Danish American Gazette—
By Alexander Hamilton

“I take up my pen to give you an imperfect account of one of the most dreadful Hurricanes that memory or any records whatever can trace, which happened here on the 31st of August at night. It began about dusk, at North, and raged very violently till ten o’clock. Then ensued a sudden and unexpected interval, which lasted about an hour. Meanwhile the wind was shifting round to the South West point, from whence it returned with redoubled fury and continued so ’till near three o’clock in the morning.

Good God! What horror and destruction! It is impossible for me to describe or you to form any idea of it. 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 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 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 keenness of water and air without a bed to lie upon, or a dry covering to their bodies; and our harbours entirely bare….”


This is just sample of what was a much longer piece of teen prose, one which may have propelled this young literary up-and-comer out of the West Indies. The remainder of his discourse is as full of allusions to an All-merciful and/or All-punishing God as any 18th Century churchgoer might wish. Sometimes, however, unvarnished truth breaks through the flow of his pious public sentiments:

"But alas! how different, how deplorable—how gloomy the prospect—death comes rushing on in triumph veiled in a mantle of ten-fold darkness. His unrelenting scythe, pointed and ready for the stroke.—On his right hand sits destruction, hurling the winds and belching forth flames;—calamity on his left threatening famine, disease, distress of all kinds.—And Oh! thou wretch, look
still a little further; see the gulf of eternal mystery open—there mayest thou shortly plunge — ...

Hark! ruin and confusion on every side.—Tis thy turn next: but one short moment—even now—Oh Lord help—Jesus be merciful! 


Thus did I reflect, and thus at every gust of the wind did I conclude,—till it pleased the Almighty to allay..."


Alexander had been waiting to die; he now thanked God that he'd escaped.  At the end of the essay, he went a step further in his Christianity. He wrote an impassioned plea to his wealthy readers to help their less fortunate neighbors, the many who now had lost everything.

"—Look around thee and shudder at the view.—See desolation and ruin wherever thou turnest thine eye. See thy fellow-creatures pale and lifeless; their bodies mangled—their souls snatched into eternity—
...Oh ye, who revel in affluence, see the afflictions of humanity, and bestow your superfluity to ease them.—Say not, we have suffered also, and with-hold your compassion. What are your sufferings compared to these? Ye have still more than enough left.—Act wisely.—Succour the miserable and lay up a treasure in Heaven."

Hamilton, I think, truly wanted people to do the right thing, and he wasn't afraid to give men three times his age a lesson in scripture. It's an aspect of his personality that is endearingly boyish.


All I have is words, but for me they shall be a magical buckler and sheathe!



Juliet Waldron








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