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.