The Purgery

A Writer's Blog & Resource Repository

Coastal Texas Hurricane Prep in the 19th Century: How did they do it back then?

The past 24 hours have been fraught with anxiety. Family and friends who are sheltering in place to ride out Hurricane Harvey are heavy on my mind while I obsess from afar over social media with storm updates and “safety check-ins.” One thing  reassures me however: my people really know how to do hurricanes.

Storms have pummeled the Texas Gulf Coast forever. As time passes, coastal residents continue to improve their resiliency and ability to mitigate the effects of stormy weather blowing in from the Gulf.

My novel in progress, River of the Arms of God, is primarily set in Brazoria County from about 1829 – 1857. As a part of my book research, the effects from the following historic storms factor into the events of my narrative:

  • September 12-14, 1818: “A storm of extraordinary violence” hit Galveston. Spanish spy and pirate Jean Lafitte allegedly offered his house to shelter the sick during the storm.
  • August 18, 1835: “Antigua-Texas Hurricane” hit near Corpus Christi. While the impacts of the winds and rains on Brazoria County are somewhat uncertain, parts of Galveston flooded.
  • October 2-6, 1837: “Racer’s Storm”  steamrolled a 2,000 mile path of destruction and affected the entire Texas Gulf Coast. Ships in the Gulf were sucked as far as 3 miles inland.
  • November 5, 1839: A hurricane made landfall at Galveston. I am still researching further details about this storm.
  • June 27, 1850: A “severe squall” pummeled Matagorda Bay at Indianola. In 1886, another storm would erase Indianola from the map entirely.
  • June 25 – 26, 1851: A “short, severe storm” passed over Matagorda Bay. Salt water contaminated the water supply, and the winds flattened all corn fields in the area.
  • September 17-19, 1854: A storm touched land at Matagorda/Galveston, and the town of Matagorda was leveled. Brazoria experienced strong winds and rain, and sugar cane and cotton crops were ruined. A yellow fever outbreak followed.

If anyone knows how coastal people in the early to mid 19th century might have prepared to ride out these storms, do please comment! These were the days before Doppler technology, so they would not have had much (or any) time to evacuate. They would have had only a few hours’ notice to implement whatever contingency plans were in place to minimize property damages and keep their families safe.

I wonder what those plans might have looked like? Might they have been so different from  emergency preparedness plans today?

Other questions:

1. What did people do with their livestock? 

2. How did people secure their properties?

3. Did people identify in advance areas of refuge against flooding and/or wind? Did they shelter as a community, or did they hole up in their own houses?

4. How was imminent storm information dispersed? 


Resources:

Fortunately we have come a long way since the 1800’s in our ability to recover from such storms. Antiseptics and advancements in medical technology have improved mortality rates in a cyclone’s aftermath. Architectural and carpentry methods have advanced so that structures along the coast are more resilient to wind and water. Meteorology as a science has also improved.

Below I have linked a report publicized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Weather Prediction Center on the history of hurricanes along the Texas Gulf Coast. Its data reaches as far back as the early 16th century.

Roth, David. Texas Hurricane History. Prepared for the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, MD on January 17, 2010. 

A Reading from my Novel in Progress: River of the Arms of God

At long last, I have settled on a title for my novel: River of the Arms of God. The book is still a work in progress, but I plan to complete the draft by next spring. Between now and then, I will continue to provide updates on my learning process as I go through the motions of writing, editing, publishing, and selling a novel.

The River of the Arms of God is an actual river, so named by early Spanish explorers el Rio de los Brazos de Dios, that cuts 840 miles south across the state of Texas and empties into the Gulf of Mexico. These days, people simply call it the Brazos River. The bulk of my novel’s drama occurs upon the banks of the Brazos, and the story centers around a plantation population that relocates from Christian County, Kentucky to the Texas Gulf Coast in the early 1830’s. In the years that follow, they witness the evolution of Texas as a U.S. immigrant colony in Mexico to a full-on state in the Union. In the foreground are an enslaved domestic servant and a deist sugar planter, who long to carve out a human existence for themselves among the harsh elements and societal constraints of an evolving Texas frontier.

I hope you enjoy this 9-minute reading of an except from my draft, originally played before a live audience at the American Women’s Literary Club (AWLC) in Peru’s event: A Kaleidoscope of Works and Words in Lima, Peru on August 21, 2017. I recommend turning on the closed captioning in YouTube so that you may read along. Click here to listen to audio recordings of all the other amazing women writers who read at the Kaleidoscope event.

Thank you for visiting!


Online resources:

For quick online info on the Brazos River’s history and lore, visit the Wikipedia page or the Texas State Historical Association’s Handbook of Texas Online.

Nonfiction resources in print:

Creighton, James A.  A Narrative History of Brazoria County.  Brazoria County Historical Commission, Waco, Texas: 1999.

Henson, Margaret Swett.  Historic Brazoria County: An Illustrated History.  Published for the Brazoria County Historical Museum.  Historical Publishing Network, San Antonio, Texas: 1998.

Holley, Mary Austin.  Texas. Observations, Historical, Geographical, and Descriptive In a Series of Letters.  Written during a Visit to Austin’s Colony, with a view to permanent settlement in that country, in the autumn of 1831.  Accessed March 2016.  HathiTrust Digital Library <https://www.hathitrust.org>.

Kelley, Sean M.  Los Brazos de Dios: A Plantation Society in the Texas Borderlands, 1821 – 1865.  LSU Press, Louisiana: 2010.

A New Path for The Purgery

Have you ever heard the phrase: the world is only as good as we make it? If we spend a year or more of our lives curating facts and snippets of worldly experience to create art (or something like art), the least we can do is give some of it back. To take it a step further, I believe it is our responsibility as creators to give it back.

I am taking The Purgery in a new direction. I still plan to deliver lessons learned and research findings about the history of Brazoria County and the Texas Gulf Coast, but my new aim is to present this information in a way that helps others make a positive world impact through storytelling.

Why should we tell better stories?

If you have ever changed someone’s mind or advised someone on an important decision, odds are you used a persuasive story or an anecdote to do it. This is how attorneys win over juries, analysts sway policy makers, business start-ups attract investors, and campaigners influence voters. Really, the list goes on.

Human beings have communicated life lessons and cultivated empathy through storytelling for thousands of years. Effective storytelling is the transmission of truth through an interpretation of facts. It is not a gift that some people are born with and others are not. Anyone can do it, and we all have much to gain if we would only aspire to do it better.

In this age of alternative facts and skeptical media consumers, information’s credibility is only as powerful as the story that carries it. Strength of story can make or break a worldview.

How do we tell better stories?

The simple answer has four parts:

  1. Share your story with others. (It does not matter if it is fiction or non-fiction.)
  2. Request feedback.
  3. Use feedback to improve the effectiveness of your message.
  4. Repeat.

The more complex answer is something I hope to explore over time through articles I write and publish in The Purgery.

My Promise

This past year I have learned from countless individuals who I believe are authorities in their professional fields or areas of interest. I aim to impart their wisdom to you through The Purgery. Once or twice a month, I will update this blog with fun and/or useful articles on the following topics:

  • Writing & Process (Research, How To’s, Author Interviews, etc.)
  • Hard knock life experiences on the Texas frontier
  • Personal insights on what life is like living as a foreigner (which is exactly what the early 19th century people of European and African descent in Texas were: strangers in a strange land)

If there is any topic you think I can help shed some light on that aligns with one of these themes, please contact me. Let’s work together!

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