Beaufort Today -

@ Your Library: The devastating Sea Island hurricane of 1893

  • Courtesy of Beaufort County Library System Susan Hazel Rice’s diary from 1893.
  • Courtesy of Beaufort County Library System Storm debris behind houses in Beaufort after the hurricane of 1893.
  • Courtesy of Beaufort County Library System Bay Street after the hurricane of 1893.

“Oh the wind did blow so high,

And de storm was all abroad,

But yet we recognize in it,

The wonderful power of God.”

— “The Storm of 1893”

In the overnight hours of Aug. 27-28, 1893, the largest natural disaster to ever befall Beaufort County struck with destructive and deadly force.

“A History of Storms on the South Carolina Coast,” a report from the South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium, summarizes the storm this way:

“Category 3 Extreme storm; winds SE 96 mph (Charleston); storm surge approached 20 feet on lower coast; St. Helena and other sea islands (Hilton Head) overflowed in considerable part; at Beaufort ‘the water was so high that following the storm a catfish was found gilled on a fence that surrounded the Methodist Church’; property damages assessed in the millions of dollars (perhaps $10 million), at least 2,000 and perhaps as many as 3,000 lives lost in coastal Carolina, primarily at Beaufort, St. Helena, and Lady’s Island, from drowning.”

Susan Hazel Rice of Beaufort (1830-1911) described the Great Sea Island Storm of 1893 in her diary:

“Monday, Aug. 28, 1893

“What a gale we had all night Every room soaking wet, sashes blowing in & Mr. W & Lewis were all night nailing doors & sashes We all lay on pallets in the sitting room but got no sleep until 4 A.M. When day light came what a scene of desolation. The tin is taken completely off our shed room & blinds blown off & sashes broken. not a dry room in the house & the lower story in dreadful condition. But we are better off than many others. My cow was drowned & most of the chickens. Can’t make fire in stove as chimney is broken in & stove full of salt water. Our cistern ruined.”

Between 1,000 and 2,000 people died as the result of the surging waters and fierce winds that came ashore. A precise count of the dead cannot be made, as many bodies were swept out to sea.

We know some of the names from the Beaufort County coroner’s inquisition records. You can read the records in the Beaufort District Collection research room during our regular hours of operation.

The Sea Island Hurricane remains the fifth-most deadly storm in U.S. history.

We’ve posted a revised list of materials on the topic of the Sea Island storm for those who are interested in learning much more about this local historic natural disaster and its long-lasting effects. One can also find a list of materials about Rachel C. Mather and Clara Barton.

Check out “The Great Sea Island Storm of 1893” by Bill and Fran Marscher from one of our branch library local history sections for the most popular book on the storm.

For more stories and first-hand accounts of the Sea Island Hurricane, read the Beaufort District Collection’s full Connections blog post titled “The Devastating Sea Island Hurricane of 1893.”

For more personal stories, read “The Storm Swept Coast of South Carolina” by Rachel C. Mather hosted online by the Lowcountry Digital Library.

Grace Morris Cordial is coordinator of the Beaufort County Library System’s Beaufort District Collection.