Before I move on to other topics in coming weeks, I want to respond to questions and comments readers have submitted concerning my original post on “The Tornado of April 5, 1804.”
Certainly, the use of the word “hurricane” to describe what today we call a tornado created confusion in the twentieth century. Virginia Hill Wilhoit’s history of Warren County (1933) noted that the path of the “Old Hurricane” of 1804 could be followed for many years. She mistakenly assumed that this “hurricane” had originated in the Gulf of Mexico.
I mentioned in my previous post the hurricane names that appeared on original surveys. I checked to see if the example I posted was still named Hurricane Branch. The Hurricane Branch in District 10 is now known as Little Hog Creek [USGS – Gray Quadrangle]. The hurricane name survives in Jones County, however. The major creek that empties into Falling Creek just above Dames Ferry on the Ocmulgee that was called Black Creek on the original surveys is now Hurricane Creek [USGS — Dames Ferry Quadrangle].
The database of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names has 22 hurricane names in Georgia: 7 branches, 10 streams, 2 churches, 1 valley, 1 lake, and 1 shoal.
One of the best known places named for the 1804 tornado was Howell Cobb’s Hurricane plantation in Baldwin County near what today is the community called Howell Cobb. Cobb (1815-1868) had been Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, and Governor of Georgia before becoming one of the founders of the Confederacy and a major general in the Confederate Army.
General Sherman camped at Hurricane plantation on his march through Georgia in 1864 and burned the plantation house and outbuildings when he discovered that Cobb owned the plantation.
I appreciate the suggestions to draw the path of the 1804 storm on a modern map. Transferring the path from the district plats to actual county maps was not difficult because the Georgia Archives has online in the Virtual Vault many county maps including some from the nineteenth century that show the individual land lots.
The path did not cross the future location of any major populated areas until it reached what is now the northern part of Milledgeville. I wonder if settlers later avoided building towns in the path because of stories about the storm. Deeds had phrases such as “known by the Hurricane passing through the farm” for decades after.
Georgia’s modern weather history has many examples of tornadoes taking similar paths to previous storms; the Gainesville tornadoes in 1903 and 1936 are the most famous because of the number of deaths. Athens had tornadoes in March and May of 1973 less than 2 months apart. The path of the great storm of March 20, 1875 was similar to the “Hurricane” of 1804. It too was reported to have crossed Georgia from Alabama to South Carolina. The newspaper accounts were even more exaggerated than the stories in 1804. The 1875 storm passed through the southern part of Milledgeville. I will write about the 1875 tornado outbreak at a later time. Although reporters assumed that there was a single tornado, plotting the damage reports on a map shows that there were many paths and not just a single one. Milledgeville also suffered considerable damage in the December, 1964 tornado that passed south of Gray in Jones County before striking Milledgeville.