From October 10 to October 16, 1780, the storm known as the “Great Hurricane” pounded the West Indies, including the islands of Barbados, Martinique, Saint Eustatius, Saint Lucia, Martinique, Puerto Rico, and what is now the Dominican Republic. By the time it blew through the Caribbean, more than 22,000 people had been killed in the deadliest Atlantic hurricane in recorded history.
On October 10th, the hurricane first struck Barbados with winds estimated at 200 mph, upending nearly all the houses, even those made of stone. British forts were demolished and not a tree remained standing. As the hurricane rampaged on—leaving thousands dead on St. Eustatius and Martinique—it also struck ships offshore. The British fleet in the harbor at St. Lucia lost eight of its twelve ships and hundreds of sailors. (One British warship was dumped down on top of a hospital) a French fleet of 40 ships near Martinique.
In 1780, the Revolutionary War was still dragging on, and though America’s allies (the French) had heavy losses, the British were in a tighter spot. England’s war plans relied heavily on its mighty navy, which had suffered a heavy blow, and the country had only a small land army. Historians believe that ship losses in the Great Hurricane helped lead to Britain’s naval defeat at the Battle of the Chesapeake—a defeat that finally allowed George Washington to force the British Army’s surrender.
The Great Hurricane’s costly damage to British colonies like Barbados also bolstered the power of London’s pro-peace faction, which had long been in favor of quitting the protracted and expensive Revolutionary War. They helped to persuade Parliament to concentrate on Britain’s more profitable colonial ventures and just grant those pesky Americans their independence.