sea monster
An Uncommon Serpent; or, The Great Sea Serpent Hunt of 1817 & 1818

Pursuit of the sea serpent, 1817

Not unexpectedly, pursuit of the sea serpent off the coast of New England in 1817 quickly took a mercenary turn, as fishermen were inspired by a $2000 bounty for its skin. Science had a nibble, too, with the Linnaeus Society pursuing descriptions of the creature and its activities. And other creatures were pursued, some of them apparently standing in for the sea serpent’s young.

Included was a reprint of Joseph Brown’s sighting in 1811, which was, the Centinel asserted, proof that the sea serpent existed.

A couple of notes: The $2000 offered for the skin of the sea serpent would have been about $32837 in 2020. “Rees’ ” was The Cyclopædia; or, Universal Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Literature, a British work by Abraham Rees then being printed in the U.S. by Samuel F. Bradford.

“The Sea Serpent.” Columbian Centinel [Boston, Massachusetts] 30 August 1817 [Saturday]; p. 2.

Yesterday we conversed with an intelligent gentleman from Gloucester, and learnt that the Sea Snake had not been seen there since Tuesday last. The hopes of taking him become less daily.

Two fishing boats from Sandy Bay, (Gloucester) sailed last Saturday in pursuit of the Sea Serpent, with nets and other implements for taking him, but did not succeed.

In searching for the Sea Serpent some fishermen on Monday caught a fish about nine feet long, off Cape-Ann harbor; which being an uncommon one, has been skinned, stuffed, and sent to the Salem Museum. It has been hoaxingly reported, that this fish is one of the progeny of the Serpent. Apropos—We have heard persons express their fears, that the visit of the Sea Serpent to our coast is to cast its spawn!

Capt. Tappan, from Newburyport, reports, that on his passage here on Thursday, about 10 o’clock A. M. he saw the Sea Serpent in the vicinity of Cape-Ann, passing very rapidly through the water, with his head extended several feet.

NEWS! from the Serpent via New-York.

NEW-YORK, AUG. 26. Capt. Doyle, who arrived here yesterday morning in three days from Cape Ann, informs us, that the day before he sailed, a number of boats went out in pursuit of the Serpent; that the Serpent soon turned upon his pursuers; and that they, with great difficulty, succeeded in reaching the shore. Two thousand dollars had been offered for his skin.

What followed was a reprint of Joseph Brown’s experience, with an introduction implying that it was proof of the sea serpent’s existence.

“More Evidence.” Columbian Centinel [Boston, Massachusetts] 30 August 1817 [Saturday]; p. 2.

The following statement of a gentleman of unquestionable veracity, will tend to establish a desideratum in Natural History—proofs of the existence of Sea Serpents; and with the other facts which the appearance of the Aquatic Animal at Gloucester has brought to light, will, we trust satisfy the doubts of the English Encyclopediaists on the subject; and add an interesting article to the edition of Rees’ now publishing in Philadelphia. The Linnæan Society have requested several gentlemen in Gloucester, to take the depositions of the persons who have seen the Monster that has appeared in that harbour; which they will unquestionably make public; and Gen. Humphreys, in his late visit to that place, has obtained copies of some, which, we learn, he intends to transmit to Sir Joseph Banks, in London; that the British public may be made acquainted with authenticated facts on the subject.

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