Life in the Thirteen Colonies

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Student Question

How did Colonial Americans deal with hurricanes and natural disasters?

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Hurricanes were largely unknown in Europe and so became a novel experience for the early colonists, who also had to contend with high winds, droughts, earthquakes, and fires.

One line of reasoning sought to find answers to these natural disasters, especially hurricanes, through studying them scientifically. Most often, however, colonists interpreted natural disasters in theological terms, attributing them to divine providence punishing settlers for sins. Colonial governments called for days of fasting and repentance in which no work was done. Some religious leaders gave thanks that the disasters were not more ferocious.

Another response to natural disaster was to examine urban planning and try to adapt local building so as to minimize the damage caused by earthquakes, high winds, or fires. For example, it was noted earthquake damage was less severe when homes were built on solid ground rather than loose soil or landfills.

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