Thursday, February 15, 2018

FEBRUARY 15 = U.S.S. Maine Explodes

On today's date, March 15 in 1898 a vast explosion sunk the American Navy Battleship U.S.S. Maine (Pic- tured above) while she was in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. 260 men were killed out of a crew of nearly 400. The source  of the explosion was unknown at the time.  But an official U.S. Naval Court of Inquiry wasted no time in stating that explosion had been caused by a mine. Spain was not directly blamed for the ''mine" in the Inquiry report.  But much of the American public as well as Congressional leaders believed Spain to be the culprit, and this eventually lead to a Declaration of War against Spain.

"I was just closing a letter to my family when I felt the crash of the explosion. It was a bursting, rending, and crashing sound, or roar of immense volume, largely metallic in character. It was succeeded by a metallic sound - probably of falling debris - a trembling and lurching motion of the vessel, then an impression of subsidence, attended by an eclipse of the electric lights and intense darkness within the cabin. I knew immediately that the MAINE had been blown up and that she was sinking." These were the recollections of the Maine's Captain Charles D. Sigsbee

What was the U.S. Problem With Spain, and Why was the Maine in Havana?

By the 1890's Spanish rule over her "Empire" was growing weak. Spain held several territories in the Pacific Ocean, most importantly the Philippine Islands, and also the island of Cuba wherein there were rebels conducting a full scale insurrection against Spanish rule. And the Spanish authorities were spending no mercies on the Cuban rebels. American indignation over the brutal Spanish tactics ran high. Also there were U.S. commercial interests in Cuba were being adversely affected. The U.S. President at the time was William McKinley
(President 1897 - 1901) who had been an officer during the American Civil War and his experiences there left him detesting war.  So he tried to avoid armed conflict. The Maine was sent in to show the American flag and protect U.S. interests  But with the explosion the newspapers particularly those of William Randolph Hearst (See New York Journal headlines reporting on the explosion above), The public and governmental leaders were whipped into a high pitch of anti Spanish feelings with sensational and totally unproven headlines such as "Destruction of the War Ship Maine Was the Work of an Enemy!" McKinley had few diplomatic avenues to explore and when these failed, war was declared on April 20, 1898.

What Happened in the Spanish American War?

Although Theodore Roosevelt resigned his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in order to raise a cavalry regiment that came to be known as "the Rough Riders" which subsequently charged up San Juan Hill on July 1, 1898, it was not T.R. who coined the phrase "A splendid little war". The phrase was written by U.S. Secretary of  State John Hay who gave it that moniker in a letter to T.R..  And it did turn out to be just that for the Americans. The fist crash came on May 1, 1898 when the seven ships of the Asiatic Squadron under the command of  Admiral George Dewey (below) blew 10 out-dated Spanish warships
 out of the water in Manila Bay. The rest of the war went with similar victories for the U.S. Army which invaded Cuba and decisively defeated the Spanish forces within three months.  An armistice halted the shooting in August. A Peace Treaty was signed in Paris on Dec. 12, 1898 and in the treaty Spain ceded its former possessions of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. The United States thus acquired its first overseas Empire.

Oh, and By the Way.....

Several investigations conducted by Admiral Rickover, the National Geographic Society and finally by the Discovery Channel (in 2002) determined that a coal bunker fire caused the explosion which blew up the U.S.S. Maine back in 1898. This "Act of an Enemy" as it was described back at the time, happened as the result of a gap in the bulkhead separating the coal and powder bunkers which then allowed the fire from the coal bunker to spread to the powder bunker. Far from being a dark plot, the loss of the Maine happened because of a design flaw in the ship's construction.

Sources =

Sunday, January 14, 2018

JANUARY 14 = FDR, Churchill Meet at Casablanca

On today's date, January 14 in 1943, the two main Allied leaders arrived in Casablanca in French Morocco to plan their strategy for the next stage of the war. Allied troops had invaded North Africa in November of 1942 and had been successful, but showed many of the difficulties of sending green inexperienced and ill-equipped troops at experienced veterans such as the Germans were at that time. So there were several questions to be decided.  One was where the Allies should strike next, when they should move and also the thorny question of what to do about French participation in the war ahead.

The Participants at Casablanca

The Conference (codenamed SYMBOL) was held at the Anfa Hotel in Casablanca and began on this date with the arrival U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.  Soviet Dictator Josef Stalin (below) was invited, but said he
could not come with his country still fighting the Battle of Stalingrad. So it was that FDR and Churchill arrived in fine spirits, happy to get away from the daily grind of politics in their respective capitals.  The two men who had already become fast friends in past meetings were delighted to see each other and share relaxed conversations about important issues over dinner with cigars and martinis.  But serious decisions had to be made about what the next Allied move should be. Stalin's Russia had borne the full attack of the Nazis thus far and was adamant that the Western Allies should launch a second front by attacking France as soon as possible.

"The Soft Underbelly..."

Churchill and his advisers favored an attack on what he called "the Soft Underbelly" of the Axis empire, which was Hitler's weak-willing ally in Italy starting with an invasion of Sicily, and then proceeding up through the Italian "boot". This would divert thousands of German troops from the Russian front Churchill believed, and it could be
begun in 1943. FDR's men, Harry Hopkins and Gen. George Marshall preferred the frontal assault on France that Stalin wanted, but agreed that until U.S. production levels of shipping especially of landing craft were brought to adequate levels, the more intermediate levels of attack offered by the Italian campaign were the only choice available.  A major cross-channel assault on France would not be possible until 1944 at the earliest. And the question of French participation  was a major problem all its own. 

The Problem of France

When Germany invaded and conquered France in 1940, the southern
half of the country was left under the control of a traitorous puppet government called Vichy, which nominally controlled French colonial possessions. This was separate from the Free-French government in exile under the leadership of General Charles de Gualle.  Allied forces invaded Morocco and Algeria on Nov. 8, 1942 in Operation "Torch", and found themselves being fired upon by the French forces as so commanded by Vichy French leaders. But this was overcome, and eventually the French troops and their leaders came over to the Allied side. With Ike's backing, General Henri Giraud was appointed Commander of the French forces in North Africa. There was considerable bad blood between de Gualle, who viewed Giraud as an extension of the Vichy government.
Neither FDR nor Churchill much liked either of the men, as both were proud difficult.  Nevertheless their joint support was needed for a united Allied front. It took tremendous effort from FDR and Churchill to bring the two rivals together.  FDR said: "My job was to produce the bride in the person of General Giraud, while Churchill was to bring in General de Gualle to play the role of the groom at a shotgun wedding."  But after much argument and discussion, the two men agreed to a posed handshake for the cameras.  And boy does it (above) ever look posed! But FDR and Churchill had finally brought the two together in public, at least.

"Unconditional Surrender"

The press was well aware that the Conference was underway, but they were not given access to the participants and the decisions made until a press conference held on the final day, January 24, 1943.
And at this came a surprise item served up by FDR with his announcement that victory would only be achieved with the unconditional surrender of Germany, Japan and Italy. This left Churchill shocked. The two men had discussed the idea in the past, but has made no definite decision on it. This would leave no room for
negotiation, should Hitler be killed. And Churchill was convinced that it would make the enemy fight all the harder. U.S. adviser Avril Harriman said that Churchill was "offended that FDR would make such a momentous announcement without prior consultation." Historians argue to this day on why FDR did this. Maybe he thought of  General U.S. Grant from the Civil War and his terms of "Unconditional Surrender" in wanting to write an unquestionable end to the war. Unlike the end of World War I where the army was able to blame the defeat on the politician's "stab in the back" - a myth which made room for the rise of Hitler and the Nazis.  We'll probably never know for sure what motivated FDR to make his surprise announcement. But after that it became policy.

Sources =

"No Ordinary Time" by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Simon & Schuster, New York, 1994.

"The American Heritage Picture History of World War II" by C.L. Sulzberger, American Heritage  Publishers, New York, 1966.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

DECEMBER 31 = George Remus Throws a Party!!

George Remus (left); called the King of the Bootleggers. A man who raised himself from a clerk at his father's drugstore to the richest and most successful bootlegger in the country until he was imprisoned in 1924. HOW he did this is covered in my post for October 6: "George Remus Kills HisWife" ( ). There you will find a detailed account of  the rise and fall of George Remus. But as it is New Year's
Eve, I thought that I would give you an account of what sounds like the party to end all parties: the New Year's Eve Party thrown by Remus on today's date in 1921, leading to 1922. Of course details differ, but I shall try to put together what I can find. I won't go on for too long - just enough to let you know what occurred, and what might have occurred.

The Big People and the Big Pool

Toward the end of 1921 George Remus had amassed a fortune through his bootlegging operations that approached $6 million.  He had  built himself a huge mansion (below) in what was then a fashionable section of his adopted hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and furnished it with all of the finest trappings available to him.... furniture, rugs, drapery, plants, and a library were all the best that his ill-gotten gains could buy.  And he decided to throw a New Years Eve bash to show it
all off to a fine guest list which included some 100 rich and influential people whom he and his wife Imogene wished to impress.  They came from all around the country; New York, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, and of course Cincinnati itself.  And as a part of his place he spent $100,000 to build a Grecian swimming pool and a building to house the pool which he would make the center piece of his party. The building which covered the pool was 86 feet wide and 115 feet long, and had a roman-style garden, and also a heating plant.  The pool, lined with Rookwood pottery had flowers arranged all around its edges. it was called "the Imogene Bath" in honor of Mrs. Remus who was said to be an excellent swimmer. In  a covered area nearby, an orchestra serenaded the guests as they sipped on fine champagne, wine, and of course whisky.  And to top it all off Remus had hired troupe of professional divers from Chicago to do exhibitions for his guests.

And the Lovely Party Favors...

After a sumptuous dinner around the great pool served by lovely young women all dressed in white, they used  the diving board of the pool as a platform from which to make formal statements.
Exactly who made these statements, and what they said has not been recorded. I have read that crisp new thousand dollar bills were wrapped around the dinner napkins, but this may simply be part of urban legend. And there is some slight disagreement about the exact nature of some of the party favors.  It is certain that he had diamond stickpins and diamond jewelry specially made for the occasion to his guests.  The jewelry for the ladies was likely earrings, although it has been said in at least one source that the ladies got diamond necklaces. And it has been recorded it at least one on-line source that the gentlemen received diamond watches. This may simply be another
exaggeration in the record of the man's fantastic record. What is certain is that each of the ladies was given the keys to a brand new car parked in front of the mansion. At the stroke of midnight even Remus himself  jumped into the pool in his tuxedo. But that was it for the man. Remus himself was a teetotalar, and handed the party over to his wife, and retired to his library, wherein he sat quietly reading until early the next morning.

Sources =

"King of the Bootleggers - A Biography of George Remus" by William Cook,
Mc Farland & Co. Inc. Publishers, N. Carolina, London, 2008

"Cincinnati Art Deco" by Steven J. Rolfes and Douglas R. Weise,  2014.

Friday, November 17, 2017

NOVEMBER 17 = The Suez Canal is Opened

The Suez Canal, connecting the Mediterranean and the Red seas, was opened on today's date, November 17, in 1869 in a lavish ceremony that was attended by France's Emperor Napoleon III and his wife, the Empress Eugenie.  The Suez Canal is an artificial sea-level (there are no locks as with the Panama Canal built later) waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea through the Isthmus of Suez. And because it greatly reduced the time of travel form Europe to the Indian Ocean, it became a major strategic prize in international politics.

Building the Suez Canal

This entire area was officially under the control or the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire, so Ferdinand de Lesseps, the former French consul to Cairo completed an agreement with the Ottoman Governor of Egypt to construct a canal across the Isthmus of Suez in 1854. M. de Lesseps assembled an international team off  engineering experts to come up with a plan to build the Canal and this became the Suez Canal Company which was granted the rights to operate the canal for 99 years. Work began in April of 1859, but it was a slow going at first as it was done by forced laborers wielding tools no more sophisticated than picks and shovels. Soon enough however the futile slowness of this became obvious. So European laborers with powerful earth moving machines such as steam shovels and dredgers were brought in and the work picked up speed. There were still problems; a cholera epidemic broke out, and there were also labor disputes. As a result the  final opening came two years later than planned.

The Grande Celebration!

The completion of the Suez Canal was an occasion for huge celebrations. The spectacular began in Port Said with a grand ball attended by numerous heads of state such the Louis Napoleon and his beautiful wife, the Empress Eugenie, the Emperor of Austria, Edward Prince of Wales representing the British.  The British never stopped
casting covetous eyes upon the canal as their govern- ment considered it an easy way to the very Jewell of the British Empire - India. Also present were the Princes of Prussia and the Netherlands. There 6,000 people in attendance at this party to end all parties, who watched the fireworks display. There was a pair of columns of ships entering the new canal from the southern and northern points and met at Ismailia wherein a new opera house was opened, and the parties went on for weeks after.

 The Canal Since the Parties Ended....

At it's beginning, the canal was merely 25 ft. deep, 73 feet wide at its
bottom, and had a surface area of 200 to 300 feet wide. Such a shallow draft, the canal could only handle limited traffic. Thus only 500 ships were able to use it during its first year of service. However the significant improvements that were made in 1876 made it a very busy waterway indeed.  In 1875, Great Britain became the largest shareholder in the Suez Canal Company when it bought up the stock of the new Ottoman governor of Egypt, Said Pasha, some 4,000 pounds sterling. Seven years later, in 1882, Britain invaded Egypt, beginning a long occupation of the country. The Anglo-Egyptian treaty of 1936 made Egypt virtually independent, But Britain considered the canal to be of vital interest in maintaining their worldwide Empire. So the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty of 1936 left the Brits in charge of a defensive force along the canal zone. After W.W.II, Egypt, lead by their President Gamal Abdel Nasser pressed for the foreign forces to leave and wound up nationalizing the canal. A military attempt by Britain, France and Israel to take the canal back by force was forced out by international
pressure.  Since then the canal has been open to worldwide commerce. In 2012, 17,225 ships moved through it; about 47 ships per day.

Sources =

Friday, October 27, 2017

OCTOBER 27 = Theodore Roosevelt is Born

On today's date - October 27 in 1858 - Theodore Roosevelt Jr. was born in New York City, the second of four children to Martha Stewart "Mittie" Bulloch and businessman Theodore Roosevelt Sr.  And which of the man's many achievements can one point to as being his greatest? Well he served as the 25'th President of the United States (1901 -1909). He served as Governor of  the state of New York, Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Soldier and leader of the "Rough Riders" - his regiment during the Spanish American War,  the nation's leading
conservationist, he was a published author on wildlife, and history; the list could go on for several more paragraphs. A man of tremendous energy, yet by the end of his life he died a man who was sad. The portrait of him by the great painter John Singer Sargent (above) shows a sort of wistful look in the man's eye, and was said by those who knew him as being the painting which captured T.R. the best. He once wrote that "Black care rarely sits behind a rider whose pace is fast enough." Had "Black care" finally caught up with him by the end?

Previous posts about Theodore Roosevelt

If you've been a regular reader of "Today in History" then you have long
since discovered what a singular figure he is and how much I like writing about him.  But just for the record, here are four previous posts I've done on this man:

JANUARY 11 = T.R. Makes the Grand Canyon a National Monument

FEBRUARY 14 = T.R.'s Tragic Day

OCTOBER 14 = T.R. is Shot!!

NOVEMBER 5 = Election DAAAZE!!!

Between them I've covered much of T.R.'s political and personal life. But in spite his many successes, tragedy seemed to stalk him in much of his life. The death of his beloved father in 1878 while he was away at school was a crushing blow. But T.R. had to deal with many other tragedies in his life.  This began with the death of his mother, Mittie, and his young wife Alice, coming like two incredible hammer blows one after the other on the same day in 1884.  "He does not know what he does or says" his sister wrote of his grief-stricken state at he time. Had "Black care" finally caught up with him?  Not surprisingly he
sought to out-run it, retreating into the Badlands North Dakota. They were called the "Badlands" because they looked grim and desolate, much like  he felt at the time. Here he spent two years as a cowboy. He bought himself a cowboy outfit custom-made for him at Tiffany's in New York (right). At first the real cowboys he encountered made light of his Eastern appearance and way of talking.  But he eventually won their respect by going out on round-ups and braving all of the same harsh conditions of freezing snow or blistering heat that they did. But soon he returned, remarried, and had a large and adoring family.

Colonel of the "Rough Riders" and Governor of N.Y.

In the New York State Legislature he became one of the leaders of the progressive movement within the Republican Party and was therefore something of a thorn in the side of the "Establishment" as it would be called nowadays.  When William McKinley was elected President of the United States, he appointed T.R. as the Assistant Secretary of
the Navy. But when war broke out with Spain over Cuba and the
Philippines, he promptly resigned his post and raised a regiment to go and fight in Cuba (left) as Colonel of the "Rough Riders". With their brave charge up San Juan Hill, T.R. became the most famous man in America.  And he returned to such great acclaim that he was elected Governor of New York. But the establishment party bosses didn't like his progressive political ways - seeking out corruption, supporting child labor
laws, and they wanted to get rid of him.

President and Former President

So Republican Party Boss Mark Hanna arranged to have T.R. kicked upstairs into the safe oblivion of the Vice Presidency.  But often the best-laid plans can go terribly astray.  And in this case they certainly did as McKinley wound up getting assassinated ( ). And "that damned cowboy" as Boss Platt derisively called him took over as the new President!!

T.R.'s reformist policies, breaking up big financial and commercial monopolies - particularly Standard Oil and the railroads left the party bosses fuming, T.R. was nevertheless wildly popular with the voters, so he was resoundingly re-elected in 1904. But his hasty promise not to run again in 1908 left him a lame duck for four years.  But that didn't stop him from setting aside huge amounts of America's wilderness and wildlife areas as National Parks and wildlife refuges. And this he did to the vast irritation of the rich men who wanted to develop these areas
for logging, and tourist attractions. Ultimately though, he was obliged by his promise not to run again to hand over the office of President to his large friend William Howard Taft (right). But Taft did not continue T.R.'s reforming ways. This resulted in a split between the two, with T.R. running for the Republican nomination for President. But the party bosses kept the nomination from him.  So T.R. angrily formed a new party to run against Taft AND the Democratic nominee, Woodrow Wilson, thus handing the prize to Wilson.

World War I Takes its Toll

I have already detailed in "T.R.. is Shot" (listed above) how there are some who believe that T.R.. had actually hoped to die from the would-be assassin's bullet during the 1912 campaign. Indeed, some of the things he said about it left the impression that "Black care" was catching up with T.R.. When World War One broke out in August of 1914 and America was finally drawn in April 1917 Roosevelt's sons joined the fight. All had done well but his youngest son Quentin who had gone into the Air Service was shot down on  July 14, 1918. It was the blow that broke his heart. Here was a man who from his days as Colonel of "the Rough Riders" had spoken of war as this great moment for a man to prove himself and be heroic, and had clearly passed that along to his sons, now felt partly responsible for his youngest son's
death. He wrote privately: "To feel that one has inspired a boy to conduct that has resulted in his death has  a pretty serious side for a father." And sure enough, on January 6, 1919, less than six months after Quentin's death, Theodore Roosevelt died in his sleep. "Black care" had finally caught up with him.

Sources =

"The Life and Times of Theodore Roosevelt" by Stefan Lorant, Doubleday & Co. Inc. Garden City,
New York, 1959

"T.R." - the American Experience, Prod. & Dir. by David Grubin, Written by David Grubin and
Geoffrey C. Ward. PBS Home Video, 1996.

Friday, October 13, 2017

OCTOBER 13 = The U.S. Navy is Born

The United States Navy was given it's "birth certificate" on today's date, October 13 in 1775 by an act of the Continental Congress. Thus, today is the official birthday of the U.S. Navy.

The Need For a Navy

Commerce was a matter of prime importance to Americans who resided and made their living off of the coastal waterways of New England in the fall of 1775.  The fortunes and livelihoods of these men were tied directly to the sea. And thus the idea of a war with the most powerful fleet in the world (the British Navy) must have filled them with dread. So the matter of naval defense was naturally uppermost in their minds when the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in the fall of 1775 (above). Afterall, Congress had created an army to fight the Red Coated British Army.  Why not a naval force of some kind?

The Continental Congress Debates the Idea

The proposal was introduced on October 3, and found many influential Congressmen very strongly opposed to the idea.  Edward Rutledge of
South Carolina (right) denounced the proposal as "the most wild, visionary mad project that ever had been imagined." Mr. Rutledge was further convinced that this idea would warp the minds of the sailors, essentially turning them into a pack of  Buccaneers: "it would ruin the character, and corrupt the morals of all our Seamen . . . [making] them selfish, piratical, mercenary, [and] bent wholly on plunder." Samuel Chase of Maryland was certain that the construction of a Navy would bring financial ruin and bankrupt the continent.  it was "the maddest idea in the world," But the navy was supported by one of the most
most effective speakers in the Congress: John Adams. Adams (below)
and his fellow "navalists" centered in on the possible benefits of having a navy "distressing the enemy" as well as creating a  "a system of maritime and naval operations" to defend the American ports against wholesale British Naval attacks at will. In the end Adams and his allies won the argument, and on this day of October 13 passed the following resolution:

 "Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct."

"Resolved, That a swift sailing vessel, to carry ten carriage guns, and a proportionable number of swivels, with eighty men, be fitted, with all possible despatch, for a cruise of three months, and that the commander be instructed to cruize eastward, for intercepting such transports as may be laden with warlike stores and other supplies for our enemies, and for such other purposes as the Congress shall direct."

Thus with the navy formally organized on Dec. 22, one Esek Hopkins was named the first Commander in Chief of the Continental Navy.
Hopkins didn't prove to be a very good C. in C.; "a strawman admiral" in the words of some of his contemporaries.  But there were other stronger and substantial men waiting in the wings to take the lead when there was real fighting to be done; men such as Capt. John Barry, and Lt. John Paul Jones. It was a small group of twenty or so ships, mostly converted from merchant service.  But they did their jobs
bravely (see "I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO FIGHT!!"
And thus from such humble beginnings arose what would eventually become the most powerful navy in the world.

Sources =

"Picture History of the United States Navy" by Theodore Roscoe
& Fred Freeman Bonanza Books, New York, 1956.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

OCTOBER 10 = The "Great Hurricane" of 1780

"At Barbados, where the cyclone had commenced it's terrible spiral, the wind was unchained with such fury, that the inhabitants hiding in their cellars did not hear their houses falling above their heads..." - Elisee' Reclus

"... a dreadful hurricane which began to rage with great fury at noon and continue with great violence till four o'clock the next morning, the 11th; At eight o'clock at night St. Thomas's parsonage was demolished and the church where the Rector and his family saought shelter began to fall about two hours after, the Chancel fell while the family were in the church ... St. Thomas's Chapel, St. Michael's, St. George's, Christ Church's and St. Lucy's churches were totally destroyed..."

 - St. Thomas, Barbados, parish marriage registers, 1780

With all of the news recently of the terrible destruction wrought by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria, I thought it might bring some useful perspective to point out that there have been hurricanes which caused much greater loss of life back in the days before we gave hurricanes name designations.  In fact on today's date, October 10 in 1780 a hurricane struck the West Indies that has the distinction of being the worst in history in terms of lives lost. What has become known a "the Great Hurricane of 1780" cost an estimated 20 to 22,000 lives.

The West Indies in 1780

The West Indies were a source of considerable riches for all of the
great powers of Europe by the late 1700's, as they were a rich source of spices and especially sugar.  So by the end of the American Revolution, both England and France had significant naval assets patrolling the waters of this region. But on the evening of Oct. 10 both navies were dealt a serious blow not from cannon fire, but from the hurricane which ravaged the entire area. The skies have been reported as having been orange that night before the hurricane hit at about 10:00. It raged on for eight days throughout the area, especially the island of Barbados, completely destroying it, leaving nary a tree nor a building still standing.

It then moved on to St. Lucia wherein the fleet of 12 ships of the British Navy under the command of Admiral George Radney had been anchored.  Eight of these warships were sunk with the loss of hundreds of sailors and soldiers (The area of the hurricane is in the map above). But the French got a worse hit than the Brits when a fleet of 40 ships were vanquished by the storm with a loss of 4,000 sailors &  soldiers sustained. Admiral Radney wrote of the destruction: “The strongest buildings and the whole of the houses, most of which were stone, and remarkable for their solidity, gave way to the fury of the wind, and were torn up to their foundations; all the forts destroyed, and many of the heavy cannon carried upwards of a hundred feet from the forts. Had I not been an eyewitness, nothing could have induced me to have believed it. More than six thousand persons perished, and all the inhabitants are entirely ruined.”

"A general convulsion of nature seemed to take place..."

"Whole families were buried in the ruins of their inhabitations; and many, in attempting to escape, were maimed and disabled.  A general convulsion of nature seemed to take place, and a universal destruction ensued. The strongest colours could not paint to your Lordship the miseries of the inhabitants: on the one hand, the ground covered with the mangled bodies of their friends and relations, on the other, reputable families, wandering through the ruins, seeking for food and shelter; in short, imagination can form but a faint idea of the horrors of this dreadful scene."
- Maj. Gen. Vaughn. Comm. of British forces in the area.

 On it's path of devastation through the West Indies, the hurricane,
packing winds of up to 200 mph, killed over 20,000 people, maybe as many as 24,000, thus making the Great Hurricane of 1780 the deadliest hurricane in Atlantic hurricane history.

Sources =

"Darkest Hours - the Great Book of Worldwide Disasters" by J. Robert Nash, Wallaby Books,
New York. 1976