Arguably the most amazing sea serpent encounter in the New World revolves around the hundreds of eyewitness accounts of a 100-foot long, large eyed, sharp toothed, scaly, reptilian beast, which is said to lurk in the waters off the harbor of Gloucester on the Atlantic coastline.
During the summer of 1817, the world was astonished by eyewitness reports of an unknown marine animal, which had apparently decided to make its temporary home in the harbor off Gloucester, Located just north of Boston on the lower portion of Cape Ann. For almost an entire month, witnesses from all walks of life reported encounters with what they universally described as a sea serpent. This is particularly significant as Gloucester has always been a fishing community filled with men and women who not only made their living off, but where well familiar with, the fauna of the sea.
Described as being between 80 and 100-feet in length, with a head as broad as a horse and a foot long, horn-like appendage coming out of its skull, this scaly, serpentine monstrosity was compared to a “row of casks” by some eyewitnesses. This comparison seems to be due to the fact that eyewitnesses claimed the creature was “full of joints and resembled a string of buoys on a net,” enabling it to double back upon itself instantaneously.
While the report of the serpent that began its rise to fame came on August 10, 1817, when two women claimed to have seen the creature swimming in Gloucester harbor, the real action wouldn’t begin until 1918, when accounts of this animal began filtering in from ship’s captains, carpenters and clergymen. There were even some who alleged that the creature was actually captured. These reports have been met with a great deal of deserved skepticism.
Skeptics’ aside, this reports of this creature have been fascinating enough to attract attention from such notables as former George Washington’s staff member, General David Humphreys, who took it upon himself to interview numerous eyewitnesses. Humphreys managed to glean information about the beast’s head, which, eyewitnesses claimed, the serpent held above the water and was:
“…much like the head of a turtle… and larger than the head on any dog… (with) a prong or spear about twelve inches in height, and six inches in circumference at the bottom, and running to a small point (coming from its head).”
While it would be easy to wonder why a creature that so readily presented itself could not be caught, a story printed in the Boston Weekly Messenger helps to clear that query up when it stated that all attempts to kill or capture this colossal creature — including a brave (or, more likely than not, foolhardy) soul who managed to get close enough to the beast to shoot a musket at it from close range. Needless to say this attempt to kill the serpent did not have the desired effect.
In the years that would follow scientists like Dr. Antoon Oudemans and Dr. Bernard Heuvelmans would take up the chase, uncovering a paper trail which would stretch from 163os to 1960s. In fact, although 1817 would far and away claim the most famed sightings of this notorious beast, the earliest account of a serpentine monster near Cape Ann’s coastline hails from a 2nd hand report by John Josselyn in 1638:
“They told me of a sea serpent, or snake, that lay coiled up like a cable upon the rock at Cape Ann; a boat passing by with English on board, and two Indians, they would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying that if he were not killed outright, they would all be in danger of their lives…”
Just three years later, in 1641, Obadiah Turner reported the following incident with a similar creature off Lynn, Massachusetts three years later:
“Some being on ye great beache gathering of calms and seaweed which had been cast thereon by ye mightie storm did spy a most wonderful serpent a shorte way off from ye shore. He was big round in ye thickest part as a wine pipe; and they do affirm that he was fifteen fathoms (90 feet) or more in length. A most wonderful tale. But ye witnesses be credible, and it would be of no account to them to tell an untrue tale. Wee have likewise heard yet Cape Ann ye people have seene a monster like unto this, which did there come out of ye land much to ye terror of them eyt did see him.”
Due to the overwhelming press coverage, as well as the unparallel interest this creature inspired in the New England Linnaean Society — who appointed a special committee to investigate these events on August 18, 1817, and even published a pamphlet in which the creature was given the scientific designation of: Scoliophis Atlanticus — there can be little doubt that the events surrounding this animal are perhaps the best documented accounts of a sea serpent (or serpents, as the case may be) that the world has ever known.
The most recent reported sighting of the serpent (or one of its offspring) took place in 1962, off the coast of Marshfield, Massachusetts. Sadly, author of “The Great New England Sea Serpent,” J.P. O’Neill, has speculated that centuries of over-fishing off of New England may well have caused the creatures to migrate away from the Gloucester bay area in search of more fertile feeding grounds. Others believe that the change from sail to diesel may have forced the serpents to steering clear of common fishing regions in order to avoid the noise and pollution of modern fishing vessels.
Whatever this animal may or many not have been, the fact remains that it is one of the most scientifically respected encounters in annals of cryptozoology, and remains one of the great unsolved mysteries of the sea.
Gloucester, Massachusetts is located just north of Boston on the lower part of Cape Ann. For hundreds of years the harbor of Gloucester has been a busy port providing safe harbor from Atlantic storms. In the 17th century fish flourished off the coast and brave sailors worked fishing boats to take advantage of the booming population. If anyone one group of people knew about the sea and its inhabitants it would have been the population of Gloucester, Massachusetts, however something new was about to take up residency, something modern science tells us does not exist.
The first documented report of the Gloucester Sea Serpent was made in 1638 by John Josselyn who wrote, “They told me of a sea serpent, or snake, that lay coiled up like a cable upon the rock at Cape Ann; a boat passing by with English on board, and two Indians, they would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying that if he were not killed outright, they would all be in danger of their lives...” This sighting was the first of many of a creature which would haunt the New England Coast for more than three centuries and would be witnessed by hundreds of people.
Described as being between 80 and 100 feet in length with a head as broad as a horse, complete with a horn like appendage protruding from its skull, this scale covered serpentine like creature was reported to be as thick as a barrel by eyewitnesses. The real action began in August of 1817 when two women reported seeing the creature swim into the harbor. That very same creature was reported at almost the same time by the captain of a near by coasting ship. After all was said and one there where eighteen reported sightings of the creature that year, most from Gloucester. Due to a large amount of press coverage and unparallel interest in the creature the New England Linnaean Society appointed a special committee to investigate the Gloucester Sea Serpent on August 18, 1817. The committee eventually created a pamphlet to hand out in which the creature was given the scientific name of Scoliophis Atlanticus. Reports off the New England coast remained strong through the 19th century, twelve sightings in 1839, nine in 1875 and thirteen in1886, sightings totaled 190 for the entire decade. Reports of the creature dwindled in the twentieth century only totaling 56, and most of those where reported before 1950.
A lack of reports in the last 60 years has left many researchers wondering just what would explain the reports of a giant sea serpent off New England’s coast Most reports of sea serpents are attributed to simple misidentification; something like dolphins leaping out of the water in single file may look like, from a distance, one single large creature. Many eyewitnesses of the Gloucester Sea Serpent however first felt they where viewing something quite normal, only upon closer inspection did they realize what they where seeing was something quite out of the ordinary. A great example of this was reported by John Brown and published in 1817, his statement is as follows: “I discovered something about three or four miles distant, about two points on the weather bow, which appeared as a mast, as it rose and sunk in a perpendicular manner, once in about eight or ten minutes. I kept the vessel directly for it, and after look at it with my glass, I observed to my mate that I was a wreck, as I could see timbers &c.. sticking up, but as we approached nearer, I found what appeared like timbers to be a number of porpoises and black fish playing and jumping around a large Sea-Serpent, which we had supposed to be the mast.”
Over the years the majority of sea serpent reports have turned out to be hoaxes either perpetrated by individuals or in many cases by newspapers. In the 19th century hoax journalism was popular but has all but disappeared today. While many reports of the creature where found in such newspapers of the time others show up in private letters, which indicates these reports had no connections to hoax journalism. Even in the case of these newspaper stories, references to the Gloucester Sea Serpent seem to lack the sensationalism that was often part of hoaxed articles. If reports of the Gloucester Sea Serpent are genuine and accurate, why have there been almost no sightings in the twentieth century? J.P O’Neill, author of The Great New England Sea Serpent, theorizes that the once fertile fishing grounds off of New England have all but vanished due to over fishing, this may have caused the creature to seek out new hunting grounds, or even become extinct. The last reported sighting along New England’s coast took place in 1962 off the coast of Marshfield, Massachusetts, however perhaps there is some hope that this creature still swims the oceans today. In 1997, after more than 30 years with out a sighting, the following report came out of Fortune Bay, Newfoundland, “It turned its head and looked right at us. All we could see was a neck six feet long, a head like a horse, but his dark eyes were on the front of his face...”
The Evidence No physical evidence of the Gloucester Sea Serpent exists to this day, only hundreds upon hundreds of credible eye witness reports.
The Sightings • 1638, John Josselyn reports one of the earliest sightings of the creature. “They told me of a sea serpent, or snake, that lay quoiled up like a cable upon the rock at Cape Ann; a boat passing by with English on board, and two Indians, they would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying that if he were not killed outright, they would all be in danger of their lives...”
• 1641, Obadiah Turner reported the following off Lynn, Massachusetts.. “Some being on ye great beache gathering of calms and seaweed which had been cast thereon by ye mightier storm did spy a most wonderful serpent a shorter way off from ye shore. He was big round in ye thickest part as a wine pipe; and they do affirm that he was fifteen fathoms [90 feet] or more in length. A most wonderful tale. But ye witnesses be credible, and it would be of no account to them to tell an untrue tale. Wee have likewise heard yt Cape Ann ye people have seene a monster like unto this, which did there come out of ye land much to ye terror of them yt did see him.”
• 1817, a published report by John Brown states: “...I discovered something about three or four miles distant, about two points on the weather bow, which appeared as a mast, as it rose and sunk in a perpendicular manner, once in about eight or ten minutes. I kept the vessel directly for it, and after look at it with my glass, I observed to my mate that I was a wreck, as I could see timbers &c.. sticking up, but as we approached nearer, I found what appeared like timbers to be a number of porpoises and black fish playing and jumping around a large Sea-Serpent, which we had supposed to be the mast.”
• 1877, two women claim to see a large creature entering Gloucester Bay.
• 1877, at almost the same time the two women say the witnessed a large creature entering the bay, a local ships captain reports an encounter with a sea serpent while cruising the bay.
• 1877, a few days after the last two reports Mrs. Amous Story she saw what appeared to be a tree trunk washed up on the rocks of Ten Pound Island which lies in the harbor, as she watched the log it began to move and when she looked again it was gone.
• 1877, on the same day Amous Story had her encounter William Row reported the following: “It was between the hours of twelve and one o'clock when I first saw him, and he continued in sight for an hour and a half. I was setting on the shore, and was about twenty rods from him when he was the nearest to me. His head appeared shaped mach like that of the sea turtle, and he carried his head from ten to twelve inches above the surface of the water. His head at that distance appeared larger than the head of any dog I ever saw. From the back of his head to the next part of him that was visible, I should judge to be three or four feet. He moved very rapidly through the water, I should say a mile or two or, at most, in three minutes. I saw no bunches on his back. On this day, I did not see more than ten or twelve feet of his body.”
• 1877. August 12th, Shipmaster Solomon Allen III reports the following: “His head formed something like the head of a rattlesnake, but nearly as large as the head of horse. When he moved on the surface of the water his motion was slow, at times playing in circles, and sometimes moving straight forward.”
• 1877, August 14th, ship's carpenter Matthew Gaffney reported the following after taking a show at the creature: “I had a good gun, and took good aim. I aimed at his head, and I think I must have hit him. He turned toward us immediately after I had fired, and I thought he was coming at us; but he sunk down and went directly under our boat, and made his appearance at about one hundred yards from where he sunk...”
|On August 10, 1817 a strange creature was sighted in the harbor of Gloucester, Massachusetts. Reports of it began to spread throughout New England.|
|General David Humphreys, a former member of George Washington's staff, travelled down to Gloucester to interview witnesses. According to the testimony he gathered, the creature's head, which it held above the water, was "much like the head of a turtle... and larger than the head on any dog." From its head there rose "a prong or spear about twelve inches in height, and six inches in circumference at the bottom, and running to a small point." In a compilation of sightings printed in the Boston Weekly Messenger it was further reported that the creature was sixty to seventy feet in length, that it was about as wide as a barrel, that it moved rapidly in a serpentine fashion, that it was able to double back upon itself instantaneously, that it was "full of joints and resemble[d] a string of buoys on a net," and that all attempts to kill or capture it, including shooting a musket at it from close range, failed.|
|On August 18, 1817 the Linnaean Society of New England appointed a special committee to "collect evidence with regard to the existence and appearance of any such animal." This committee soon thereafter published a pamphlet in which it announced that the sightings of the creature represented the discovery of an entirely new genus, the Scoliophis Atlanticus.
However, the society's pamphlet met with ridicule, and inspired the production of numerous fake accounts of the creature. The account was particularly ridiculed in the South, where it inspired the Charleston playwright, William Crafts, to compose a play titledThe Sea Serpent; or, Gloucester Hoax: a Dramatic jeu d'esprit in Three Acts. The premise of this play was that the serpent was a hoax, designed to promote the reputation of the town of Gloucester.
Others, however, took the reports of the creature seriously. Jacob Bigelow composed an essay about the creature for Benjamin Silliman's prestigious American Journal of Science, and Arts.Interest in sea serpents reached an even greater pitch in America when there were mass sightings of a serpent off the coast of Nahant in 1819.
The Stats – (Where applicable)
• Classification: Sea Serpent
• Size: between 80 to 100 feet in length
• Weight: Unknown
• Diet: Unknown, most likely fish
• Location: Off the Coast of New England, United States
• Movement: Swimming
• Environment: Coastal Ocean