Jul 21, 2022 I Nick Redfern

Sea Serpents: Mighty Creatures That Ruled the Oceans Centuries Ago

It's a baffling fact that although the sea serpents of earlier times were seen here, there and everywhere, today they are just about completely gone. As to why, we simply don't know. Fortunately, however, we do have the testimony of sailors, and of the captains of ships. Their reports amount to a huge number. With that said, let's have a look back in time, an era when giant monsters almost ruled the waves. For example, the port of Gloucester, Massachusetts was the site of repeated encounters with massive, dangerous leviathans in the early 17th century. From a man named John Josselyn, we have these words to muse upon: “They told me of a sea serpent, or snake, that lay quoiled [sic] 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.” Obadiah Turner, also in the same time-frame, stated of the creature, in old English style of writing: “Some being on ye great beache gathering of calms and seaweed wch 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 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, whch did there come out of ye land mch to ye terror of them yt did see him.”

(Nick Redfern)

It should be stressed that the 19th century was the period in which sea serpents were really in their element, we might say. From 1817, we have the following, notable report from Amos Story: “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 much 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.” Story’s account was swiftly followed by that of Solomon Allen III, a shipmaster. He said of the incredible beast he spied: “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.”

A particularly detailed account came days later from one Cheever Felch, whose sighting of the Gloucester sea serpent was made when he, Felch, was aboard a U.S. schooner, the Science. He said of the monstrous thing: “His color is dark brown with white under his throat. His size we could not accurately ascertain, but his head is about three feet in circumference, flat and much smaller than his body. We did not see his tail; but from the end of the head to the farthest protuberance was not far from one hundred feet. I speak with a degree of certainty, behind much accustomed to measure and estimate distances and length. I counted fourteen bunches on his back, the first one say ten or twelve feet from this head, and the others about seven feet apart. They decreased in size towards the tail. These bunches were sometimes counted with and sometimes without a glass. Mr. Malborne counted thirteen, Mr. Blake thirteen and fourteen, and the boatman the same number...His motion was partly vertical and partly horizontal, like that of fresh water snakes. I have been much acquainted with snakes in our interior waters. His motion was the same.”

And still the reports kept on coming, as seafarer John Brown noted: “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 it was a wreck, as I could see timbers 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.” While there certainly have been sightings of sea serpents in the waters of Gloucester since 1817, none of them – in terms of their frequency, number of witnesses, and credibility – has ever come close to matching those tumultuous, early 19th century days when the people of Gloucester were plagued by a monster.

Nick Redfern

Then, there is this account, which appeared in the British Literary Gazette on August 1, 1818: “Captain Joseph Woodward of the schooner Adamant reported an encounter off the coast of Cape Ann in May, 1818. He said he shot a cannon at the monster. He was quoted as saying that after the cannon shot: ‘The serpent shook its head and its tail in an extraordinary manner and advanced toward the ship with open jaws; I had caused the cannon to be reloaded, but he had come so near that all the crew were seized with terror, and we thought only of getting out of his way. He almost touched the vessel and, had I not tacked as I did, he would certainly have come on board. He dived, but in a moment we saw him come up again with his head on one side of the vessel and his tail on the other as if he was going to lift up and upset us.  However we did not feel any shock. He remained five hours near us, only going backward and forward.”

We’ll now take a look at some more, incredible claims of encounters with monsters; cases that amazed and terrified the crews and passengers of ships and boats on the high seas. Rather notably, a number of such reports have been declassified under the terms of the U.K. government’s Freedom of Information Act. They demonstrate something remarkable and illuminating: namely, that highly incredible sources had seen huge, monsters of the oceans and who were willing to attest to the truth of the amazing incidents. Just such a case can be found in the 19th century-era archives of the Admiralty, which was the U.K. equivalent of the United States Navy. The first report that has been declassified by government personnel dates back to 1830, specifically May 9, 1830. As for the crew that had the amazing encounter, they were aboard the Rob Roy, which was a military craft, and while navigating the Atlantic Ocean. Little did the crew know that when the day began, they would soon come face-to-face with a terrifying monster of the mysterious depths. We have the captain of the ship, one James Stockdale, to thank for having the guts to inform senior naval personnel the incredible creature that had been seen.

I will now share with you the unedited words of Captain Stockdale: “About five p.m. all at once while I was walking on the poop my attention was drawn to the water on the port bow by a scuffling noise. Likewise all the watch on deck were drawn to it. Judge my amazement when what should stare us all in the face as if not knowing whether to come over the deck or to go around the stern – but the great big sea snake! Now I have heard of the fellow before – and I have killed snakes twenty-four feet long in the straits of Malacca, but they would go in his mouth. I think he must have been asleep for we were going along very softly two knots an hour, and he seemed as much alarmed as we were – and all taken aback for about fifteen seconds. But he soon was underway and, when fairly off, his head was square with our topsail and his tail was square with the foremast. My ship is 171 feet long overall – and the foremast is 42 feet from the stern which would make the monster about 129 feet long. If I had not seen it I could not have believed it but there was no mistake or doubt of its length – for the brute was so close I could even smell his nasty fishy smell." There's more to come:

“When underway he carried his head about six feet out of water – with a fin between the shoulders about two feet long. I think he was swimming about five miles an hour – for I watched him from the topsail yard till I lost sight of him in about fifty minutes. I hope never to see him more. It is enough to frighten the strong at heart.” The report of Captain Stockdale and his crew was not the only one that ended up in U.K. military files. There was yet another. This one dated from December 13, 1857. Commander George Henry Harrington was so impressed – and worried – by the extraordinary sighting that he quickly put together a full report on the encounter with the giant beast. It reads like this: “While myself and officers were standing on the lee side of the poop – looking toward the island – we were startled by the sight of a huge marine animal which reared its head out of the water within twenty yards of the ship – when it suddenly disappeared for about half a minute and then made a reappearance in the same manner again – showing us its neck and head about ten or twenty feet out of the water.

“Its head was shaped like a long buoy – and I should suppose the diameter to have been seven or eight feet in the largest part with a kind of scroll or ruff encircling it about two feet from the top. The water was discolored for several hundred feet from the head, so much so that on its first appearance my impression was that the ship was in broken waters, produced, as I supposed, by some volcanic agency, since I passed the island before. But the second appearance completely dispelled those fears and assured us that it was a monster of extraordinary length and appeared to be moving slowly towards the land. The ship was going too fast to enable us to reach the masthead in time to form a correct estimate of this extreme length – but from what we saw from the deck we conclude that he must have been over two hundred feet long. The Boatswain and several of the crew, who observed it from the forecastle, state that it was more than double the length of the ship, in which case it must have been five hundred feet. Captain Harrington signed off: “I am convinced that it belonged to the serpent tribe.”

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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