On October 20, 1780, a hurricane struck a Spanish fleet under the command of Admiral Don José Solano y Bote Carrasco y Díaz. The ships were transporting 4,000 troops, led by Field Marshal Don Bernardo de Gálvez y Madrid, from Havana, Cuba, to carry out an attack on British-held Pensacola in West Florida. The storm so ravaged the fleet that the attack was canceled.
The storm may have generated somewhere in the western Caribbean Sea, but was first noted when it brushed past Jamaica on Oct. 15th. It may have passed through the Yucatan Channel around Oct. 18th and overtook the fleet somewhere west of the Dry Tortugas. Of the 64 vessels, an unknown number were sunk with the loss of half of the troops. The remainder, along with Solano and Gálvez, limped back to Havana. The storm struck West Florida the following day and continued inland bringing heavy rain to Georgia. It is in dispute whether the storm dissipated over land or moved out to sea again.
Gálvez was undeterred by this setback and petitioned the War Council in Havana to let him mount another attack. He is quoted as saying, “Have we so little constancy and tenacity that a single tropical storm suffices to halt us?” The Council granted his request and the following May, he and Solano returned and finally conquered Pensacola for the Spanish Crown.
For many years, this hurricane was thought to be the same storm which had struck Jamaica the previous fortnight and a week later ravaged the Antilles. Later investigation by Lt.Col. William Reid in the mid-19th Century revealed these to be three separate hurricanes. These three storms made 1780 the deadliest Atlantic hurricane season on record.
Neely, Wayne, 2012, “The Great Hurricane of 1780: The Story of the Greatest and Deadliest Hurricane of the Caribbean and the Americas“, iUniverse, Bloomington, ID
Emanuel, Kerry, 2005, “Divine Wind”, Oxford University Press, New York, NY