One hundred eighty years ago today, on October 6, 1837, Galveston was struck by a tremendous hurricane that is now known as Racer’s Storm after HMS Racer, a British warship that was nearly sunk in the gale off Belize, British Honduras. Racer’s Storm, one of the most destructive of the 19th century, passed westward through the Caribbean, across the Yucatán peninsula, and up along the Mexican and Texas coasts before crossing into Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and finally Georgia. When the storm passed Galveston between October 6 and 8, 1837, the storm surge covered the island. Almost every vessel in the harbor was sunk or driven ashore, including Brutus, the last of the original four vessels of the Texian Navy, and almost every structure on the island was damaged or destroyed.
Amasa Turner, a Texian military officer and early Galveston settler, left an account of Racer’s Storm that highlights the efforts of Lent Munson Hitchcock in helping to rescue some of the women and children trapped during the hurricane. Turner had asked Munse Hitchcock to anchor his small pilot boat near his house, that was crammed to standing-room only with several families upstairs as well as about eighty soldiers on the ground floor. Asked if he thought the boat could reach the mainland if necessary, Hitchcock replied that he had simplified the rig to function better in high wind; he thought he might be able to reach Virginia Point on the mainland that way in necessary.
The water continued to rise, and the force of wind and waves pushed the structure off its foundation blocks. It held together, but Turner had to knock out the wall siding on the north and south sides of the structure to allow the water to pass through unimpeded. About 10 p.m. Hitchcock brought his boat under the lee of the house, and they began transferring the women and children into it, covering them with quilts and blankets. Hitchcock then ran the boat with its precious cargo toward the highest point he could find, grounding the boat hard about 150 yards from Turner’s house. He and some other men then carried the boat’s anchor as far forward as they could, planting it securely, with the intent to keep moving it forward as the water rose Fortunately the water did not rise any higher, and after about an hour and a half began to recede. At about 2 a.m. the men suggested returning the boat and all aboard to the house, but the women declined – the children were all comfortably asleep on the mattresses and blankets in the bottom of Captain Hitchcock’s pilot boat.
Join the Texas Navy Association on Saturday, October 21, at 10 a.m. at Old Episcopal Cemetery in Galveston, for a medallion ceremony recognizing Lent Munson Hitchcock, Jr. (right), who served as an officer in the Texian Navy during the Revolution in 1836-37. The Texas Navy Association is a private, 501(c)(3) organization, dedicated to preserving and promoting the historical legacy of the naval forces of the Republic of Texas, 1835-45. Membership in the Texas Navy Association is open to all persons age 16 and over who have an interest in Texas history and want to help support the goals of the organization.