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

The sea serpent fed by hand, 1817

Speculation often ran with joyous abandon through newspaper pieces about the sea serpent spotted off the coast of New England in 1817. Editors piqued by the unusual incident ransacked each other’s papers for any wisp of information or engaging text to reprint.

Such happened with the August 23 issue of the Essex Register [Salem, Massachusetts]. Two pieces on separate pages were combined by the Boston Patriot into a piece loaded with speculation.

The first piece in the Register (page 2) ambles from the slightly domestic image of fisherfolk feeding “our” sea serpent by hand and anticipation of its portrait to speculation on how it could be caught.

Our Sea Serpent. Essex Register [Salem, Massachusetts] 23 August 1817 [Saturday]; p. 2.

Our Sea Serpent, as he is called, is still near our shores. We have been told that he has actually received herrings when offered to him. We have been promised a view of him as he appears when at his ease upon the water. Whether he will be taken remains doubtful. The only hope seems to be from some powerful wound in the head, which he might receive from a discharge of small shot, whether from musquetry [sic] or a cannon. If he were drawn into some cove, and there exposed to a particular examination, the article under which he appears would be something besides a name with uncommon fear in it.

Page three tracked the serpent’s whereabouts and announced a pursuit, under an enticing headline.

“The Great Aquatic Serpent.” Essex Register [Salem, Massachusetts] 23 August 1817 [Saturday]; p. 3.

The Great Aquatic Serpent

It appears has quit his station in Gloucester harbor, the small fish on which he subsisted having probably become scarce, and has since appeared about Kettle Cove, several miles this side of Gloucester, where herrings and other small fish are said to be found in great abundance. He was last seen at Gloucester on Monday afternoon—and on Wednesday afternoon, and yesterday morning he was discovered near Kettle Island by several persons who were taking lobsters in the Cove.

We learn that a party, well prepared, will proceed this morning from Marblehead, for the purpose of attacking this formidable visitant of our shores.

The Boston Patriot liked the phrase “Great Aquatic Serpent,” liked the feeding of herring, and mashed them together with some explanation of why the critter had showed up this year to begin with.

“The Great Aquatic Serpent.” Boston Patriot and Daily Chronicle [Boston, Massachusetts] 25 August 1817 [Monday]; p. 2.

The Great Aquatic Serpent

remained, at the last accounts we have yet received, at Kettle Cove, which place is several miles this side of Gloucester. We understand that herrings and other small fish are found in great abundance in this cove, and that the serpent has actually received herrings when offered to him.—Whether he will be taken remains doubtful; but we learn that a party well prepared were to have gone in pursuit of him from Marblehead on Saturday morning last. We have not yet ascertained whether they went, or if so, what was the result of their expedition. Should any person or persons be so fortunate as to take him, they might calcula[t]e upon a receipt from the exhibition of his skin and skeleton, which would well reward them for their labor and expense. It is said one of the sharks, which was lately in company with him, has been taken in the harbor of Gloucester.

It is probable that this uncommon creature has been attracted to our shores by the immense shoal of herrings which are known to have lately entered the Eastern rivers. Several weeks before the appearance of the serpent, we noticed this uncommon swarm of herrings, and quoted some account of their migratory movements from a European writer, who says, that “their migration commences at their rendezvous in the Icy Sea, within the Arctic circle, where they collect their several colonies into one grand army, and begin their march about the middle of winter. They afterwards separate, one division pouring down along the coast of America, the other towards Europe.” It is probable that the Icy Sea, far from the usual haunts of men, is the place of residence of this enormous creature, and that he has crossed the Atlantic in pursuit of the herrings.

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