Before Mark Twain: A Sampler of Old, Old Times on the Mississippi

By John Francis McDermott | Go to book overview

HURRICANE AT NATCHEZ

[Reported by J. H. Freligh, Captain of the steamboat Prairie, from New Orleans, May 16, 1840, to J. G. Bennett of the New York Herald, as reprinted in the St. Louis Daily Commercial Bulletin, June 9, 1840.]

On the 7th inst., about 2 P.M., my boat was lying at the Natchez landing, taking cotton on board—we had been there about one and a half hours; the sky during that time was filled with heavy, dark clouds—in the distance was heard a continual dull roaring of what we supposed thunder, which gradually grew louder and more distinct. At intervals there were sharp, heavy claps, attended with the most vivid lightning. Gradually the clouds lowered still darker—the claps of thunder grew louder and seemed nearer—the lightning flashed still brighter—the distant rolling thunder assumed more the sound of moaning—every appearance indicated, as we supposed, a violent storm of rain. Many on board were attracted by the gloomy grandeur of the heavens, and were watching it with feelings of awe, which every manifestation of divine power so palpable to the senses is calculated to raise in the human breast. Suddenly the appearance of the sky changed, and showed by various signs the approach of a mighty wind. No time was then left for calculations or further observation of the terrific war of the elements. All were on the alert—additional lines were ordered to be got out to shore—the engineer ordered to be ready- the pilot summoned to the wheel, and every precaution taken to have the boat secure against the coming storm.

With one of the hands I ran to the roof to pay out a hawser to the forecastle. We had got the end out, and it was laid hold of by the men below, the hand and myself paying it out on the roof, when the storm burst on us. The roof was lifted, or started like. With the impulse of self-preservation, I sprang to the gangway leading to the boiler deck—plunged down it—and threw myself

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