Back In History: Sea Serpent Seen Off Cape Ann


It was no hoax, and no hallucination; it was real, as many local mariners and observers could attest.  A boatload of Marbleheaders, armed with pistols and harpoons, got pretty close; but of the many who tried to approach the serpent, no one got a better look than Joseph Lee, a Manchester mariner.

Like many others, Joseph attested in writing to his observations.  

“On the 15th day of August, 1817, I had the pleasure of seeing the Sea Serpent.  I was on board of schooner Hazard, laying to anchor off Little Island, between the town of Manchester and Cape Ann (Gloucester), when I first saw him.  I judge that I was about 150 yards from him; but to have a better view of him I went into the boat and went as near him as I thought it safe. I was within 70 yards of him; I thought it not safe to go any further.  I returned back on board of the schooner again.  I saw him in the above fashion. He was about 100 feet in length as nigh as I could judge.  His bigness around I could not ascertain.  I saw him 20 minutes.”

Like no one else, evidently, Joseph Lee sketched a picture of the creature, probably soon after their encounter.  We see a scaly, robust, snake-like animal, drawn in a circle and feeding on a school of fish.  Its head is like that of a crocodile, with long jaws, a protruding tongue, and a greedy look in its eye. Lee’s serpent is notable for an absence of fins.

On that same day, 15 August 1817, in Salem, the diary-keeping minister of the East Church, Rev. William Bentley, wrote, “We have heard from Gloucester that a Norway kraken had visited their harbor within Ten Pound Island.  We have had letter upon letter.  Many attempts have been made to kill him.  The general representation is that his head is like a horse and that he raises it several feet out of water, (and) that his body, when out of water, looks like the buoys of a net or a row of kegs or a row of large casks.”

A few days later, he wrote that, “the sea serpent, so called, continues off Cape Ann” and notes that a similar creature had patrolled the waters of Mount Desert, Maine, in 1793. “The serpent has been seen so often as to leave no doubt of the certainty of his existence.  We more wonder that enterprise has not yet found the means to take him.”

For the next two years, the sea serpent would be a common sight, feeding and gamboling on and near the surface from Gloucester to Nahant.  Where it came from and where it went, no one knows.

dragons, sea monsters, mythology, cape ann, joseph lee, legendary creatures, sea serpent, gloucester sea serpent, manchester