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5 Times Hurricanes Changed History

August 14, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

These violent storms have had far-reaching consequences that altered the course of history in surprising ways.

Each year an average of two hurricanes strike the United States, leaving death and destruction in their wakes. According to Eric Jay Dolin, author of

Deadliest Hurricanes in U.S. History (TV-PG; 6:24)

5. A hurricane helped ensure victory in the American Revolution.

As it swept across Caribbean ports used by the French and British navies as staging areas during the American Revolution, the Great Hurricane of 1780 took an estimated 22,000 lives. While the British lost eight ships and nearly all of their crews, the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record also claimed more than 40 French transport vessels and the lives of thousands of soldiers on board.

The storm provided an added impetus for France—which had signed a treaty in 1778 to provide military support to the patriots—to agree to George Washington’s request to move its ships northward. Repairing their ships during the winter of 1781, the French then moved most of their vessels north to the Virginia coast during the following hurricane season. After defeating British naval forces at the Battle of the Chesapeake on September 5, 1781, French warships blocked any British escape by sea during the Siege of Yorktown. That operation concluded with the surrender of Lord Charles Cornwallis and effectively ended the American Revolution.

READ MORE: How an Enslaved Man-Turned-Spy Helped Secure Victory at the Battle of Yorktown

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