Among many letters received from the far-flung members of his family by Cumberland County’s Reuben Alexander (1785-1864) was one from his niece, Nancy Brooks, who lived with her husband and son on a plantation near Pontotoc, Mississippi. Writing on March 22, 1855, she described her harrowing experience of a tornado:
Last Friday night, the 16th of March, an awful, raging, roaring, tearing whirling Tornado passed over, among and round about us, with terrifying fury!
My family were all at home. . . . [We] secured everything as well as we could. I had scarcely got my little son, and several of us, in a little shed room which I thought the safest place, and lifted up my heart & voice in prayer, before the deafening roar of the storm commenced. . . .
The next morning we went out of our house and looked around — destruction reigned around our premises! An immense quantity of large timber fallen, and torn to atoms. . . . Our meat house, kitchen, cabbins, corn houses, stables, unroofed and wrecked. . . .
In Pontotoc, a neighbor reported, the destruction was “awful”:
One man got his leg broken, when a very large new brick Livery stable was blown to atoms. . . . Only two horses were killed, but a great smashing of buggies & carriages.
Also lost was a new school, set to open the following week:
The pride of our town, the Male Academy, a substantial beautiful brick building, was blown down! . . . They were teaching in one of the churches, waiting for a little finish, on the Academy, but alas! how their hopes are blasted!
Twenty miles away, a woman had been killed and her clergyman husband seriously injured in their collapsed house, but Nancy wrote that her son and husband, who was “very busy at work, helping to repair our shattered place,” had survived “what I fervently implore my Heavenly Father that I may never experience again.”
Nancy Brooks’s letter is part of the Alexander Family Papers in the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives section of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click here for a finding aid. For more collections about Kentucky families, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.