Liberty County History

An occasional gathering place for articles, documents, photographs, records and other ephemera dealing with the history of Liberty County, Texas.

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Kevin Ladd is director of the Wallisville Heritage Park at Wallisville, Chambers County, TX and lives in Hardin, TX. He is chairman of the Liberty County Historical Commission and writes for "Texas Illustrated," a monthly publication of the Liberty Gazette newspaper, which is devoted to local history and folklore.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Texas Hurricanes of the Spanish Era

Now that we are officially in the hurricane season along the Texas Gulf Coast, it might be instructive to take a look at historical hurricanes, particularly those that impacted Galveston Bay, Trinity Bay and what is today Liberty and Chambers counties. Over fifty hurricanes have hit this part of the coast during the past four centuries.
The historical record for great storms in the Sixteenth, Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries is limited primarily to those occasions when the fury of nature made contact with agents of the far-flung Spanish colonial empire. A ship or perhaps a fleet of ships went down. A mission or presidio was wrecked. These are the principals means in which we have learned details about the hurricanes of the Spanish Era. The most interesting of those are recounted herein.

The Spanish Era


The earliest documented hurricane along the Texas coastline arrived in late November 1527, destroying a merchant fleet on Galveston Island. Contemporary accounts suggest some 200 lives were lost. A fleet of twenty Spanish ships bearing silver and gold ran into a fierce storm near Padre Island in 1555, leaving only four ships out of the original number. Out of the combined crew of two thousand sailors, only 300 made it ashore. Their original goal was to take a land route to Mexico, but Karankawa Indians set upon the men as they landed. A fierce battle ensued, and their numbers were significantly reduced. Others died under a variety of different circumstances, but only two survivors managed to reach Mexico.

Another hurricane in early November 1590 claimed another Spanish fleet and over a thousand individuals were likewise lost. Sixty Spaniards perished off the coast of Mexico during a September 12, 1600 storm. The ship San Miguel went down on August 30, 1615 near Mexico. Some three hundred Spaniards were lost in October 1631 during a hurricane that moved through the Gulf of Mexico.

Presidio San Agustin de Ahumada and Mission Nuestra SeƱora de la Luz, located immediately north of the present-day town of Wallisville, was ten years old when a fierce hurricane struck this area on September 4, 1766. The storm came in at Galveston and devastated the small Spanish outpost here. Records from that time indicate the area was flooded by a seven-foot storm surge. The mission and presidio complex was relocated to higher ground. No casualties were recorded.

Another hurricane hit the Gulf in 1791, primarily coming ashore in he vicinity of Padre Island. A huge herd of Spanish cattle, probably as many as 50,000 head, were drowned in the storm surge. The next post will deal with some storms of the early Nineteenth Century.

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