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“It is a Wonder to Myself That I Can Write at All”: The Galveston Hurricane of 1900

October 5, 2011

Yesterday’s blog post highlighted a letter from the Library’s Fisher Family Papers in which Eliza Ophelia Smith Fisher described her harrowing experiences during the Indianola Hurricane of 1875. Today’s entry focuses on a second letter from the Fisher collection written by a survivor of the Galveston Hurricane of September 8-9, 1900.

A stereograph showing damage at Avenue O and 19th Street in the aftermath of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. (SC10034)

A stereograph showing damage at Avenue O and 19th Street in the aftermath of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. (SC10034)

A stereograph showing "a schoolhouse that was carried 600 feet while all beyond was swept away" during the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. (SC10033)

A stereograph showing "a schoolhouse that was carried 600 feet while all beyond was swept away" during the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. (SC10033)

According to the Encyclopedia of Hurricanes, Typhoons, and Cyclones, this storm was “an exceedingly violent Category 4 tropical cyclone.” With 140-mph winds, 9-inch rains, and a 16-foot storm surge, the hurricane “annihilated large portions of coastal and inland Texas.” It “not only remains one of the most intense storms to have ever afflicted the mainland United States but also the nation’s deadliest” (218).

Annie Fisher Dallam Harris (1823-1906) wrote to her niece Nannette “Nettie” Pleasants Fisher Armstrong (1857-1939) in San Antonio two days after the storm. She reported that among the 6,000 to 12,000 people who perished in the hurricane were three of her daughters; her son-in-law, and Nettie Armstrong’s brother, Walter Pemberton Fisher (1856-1900); and six grandchildren.

The first page of Annie Harris's letter to her niece.

The first page of Annie Harris's letter to her niece.

The second page of the letter.

The second page of the letter.

Monday, Sept 11th

Dear Nettie –

Knowing that you will feel anxious to hear about us after this late awful calamity, I will write you this morning just the bare heart rending facts. I cannot give you the harrowing details, and it is a wonder to myself that I can write at all, for the hand of the Lord has smitten me [illegible], has taken at one flow three of my lovely daughters and six of my darling grandchildren. Also, your own brother, poor dear Walter. I cannot think why I whose life is nearly spent was saved, and all those valuable lives taken! But so it is. Of my own family [son] John & [daughter] Cora are all that are left, and of the children [granddaughter] Nanna & [grandson] baby Kenner. Our house and the Mastersons are both entirely destroyed. For the present, the [grandchildren] young Mastersons, myself & little Kenner are sheltered at [nephew and his wife Fred’s, and Addie requested me to write you this to let you know. But I cannot as yet write you the dreadful details. 

Auntie

Based on some preliminary research, we’ve been able to at least tentatively identify everyone mentioned in Harris’s letter and compile the following genealogy (some people not mentioned in the letter have not been included):

Samuel Rhoads Fisher (1794-1839) m. Ann Pleasants (1796-1862)

  • Samuel William Fisher (1819-1874)
  • Annie Pleasants Fisher (1823-1906)

Samuel William Fisher (1819-1874) m. Eliza Ophelia Smith Fisher (1823-1877)

  • Frederick Kenner Fisher (1852-1920) m. Lucy Adelaide Selkirk (1859-1939)
  • Walter Pemberton Fisher (1856-1900) m. Elizabeth Lillian/Lillie Byrd Harris (1858-1900)
  • Nannette or Annette “Nettie” Pleasants Fisher (1857-1939) m. John W. Armstrong (1843-1911)

Annie Pleasants Fisher (1823-1906) m. James Wilmer Dallam (1818-1847)

  • Annie Wilmer Dallam (1847-1900) m. Branch Tanner Masterson (1847-1920): their five children, who ranged in age from sixteen to twenty-five, survived.

Annie Pleasants Fisher Dallam (1823-1906) m. John Woods Harris (1810-1887)

  • Rebecca Perry Harris (1853-1900): single at the time of her death with no children.
  • John Woods Harris (1855-1918) m. Minnie Knox Hutchings (1866-1922): their two children, ages five and thirteen, also survived.
  • Elizabeth Lillian/Lillie Byrd Harris (1858-1900) m. Walter Pemberton Fisher (1856-1900): three of their children, ages seven to ten, died in the hurricane. Their youngest son Frederick Kenner Fisher (1898-1910) survived.
  • Cora Lewis Harris (1868-1950) m. Wharton Davenport (1867-before 1930): oldest daughter Anna “Nanna” Davenport Newton (1889-1967) survived, but the couple’s other three children perished. They had a son in 1902.

For Further Reading

Additional Fisher family genealogical information can be found at the Star of the Republic Museum’s Samuel Rhoads Fisher page, compiled as part of its Texas Declaration of Independence signers project.

The Complete Story of the Galveston Horror edited by John Coulter, Galveston: The Horrors of a Stricken City by Murat Halstead, Galveston in Nineteen Hundred edited by Clarence Ousley, and The Great Galveston Disaster by Paul Lester were published in the immediate aftermath of the 1900 storm.

Helping to mark the centennial of the hurricane, Galveston and the 1900 Storm: Catastrophe and Catalyst by Patricia Bellis Bixel and Elizabeth Hayes Turner contains many historical photographs and examines the reinvention of the city in the storm’s aftermath. Through a Night of Horrors: Voices from the 1900 Galveston Storm, edited by Casey Edward Greene and Shelly Henley Kelly, contains letters, memoirs, and oral histories that document survivors’ experiences.

Click here for a full citation of the documents and images included in this entry.

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