Friday, June 17, 2011

Tales of Sea Serpents

We all know that Sea Serpents don't really exist. Just like we know there are no dragons, no mermaids, and no monsters.  But 120 years ago, things may have been a lot less certain.

It is said that when you are at sea that your mind can play tricks on you…how else can you explain sailors thinking that manatees, so homely they border on being cute, being confused for mermaids.

However, when the men of the schooner Edward Waite of Portland, Maine sailing back from Cardenas, Cuba with a cargo of sugar, spotted something strange in the water...something none of them had ever seen was something they couldn't keep to themselves.

Upon coming into port on February 17, 1884 this is the tale told by the sailor, William Page, which was reported in the New York Times...

"Our voyage from Cardenas to Cape Hatteras was uneventful.  We passed that point on the morning of the 14th, and we were more than half the way to Cape Henry when we sighted a strange disturbance in the ocean.  It was my watch, and there were several men on deck at the time.  We thought at first that it was a whale, but as it did not 'blow' we concluded that it was a large shark, although some of the men who were watching it said that it was too large for a shark.  The thing, whatever it was, came nearer and nearer, as if charging for the vessel, and we began to get a little excited.  We noticed also, as it came within a reasonable distance, that the things head was raised out of the water.  It came nearer and nearer, leaving a long, wide wake behind it, and stirring up the water into foam like the paddles of a river steamer.  It passed the schooner within less than 250 yards, and we had a full view.  We were so much interested that I forgot to call the Captain, who was below asleep, but all of the watch saw the thing as plainly as I can see the schooner in the next dock.  It was a sea serpent and no mistake.  We could only measure its size by the line made in the water, but I should say that it was fully 90 feet long, with a head as large and something like the shape of a horse’s head.  The most remarkable thing about it was the color and size of its eyes.  They were of a bright saffron hue, and half as big as a man's hand.  It held its head above the water all the time we saw it, which was about half an hour, when it passed out of sight in a southerly direction.  We were at the time in latitude 35 degrees 40", and it was a clear day.  We could have not been mistaken."

Here is a link to the full article.

What did they see?  I can't think of anything we know of today which could fit that description.  Is it possible they saw something that has been yet to be rediscovered by marine biologists?  There is still so much we don't know about our oceans.  Or was it the result of too much sun and too much rum which caused some sort of mass delusion?

I can't be sure that my 2nd Great-grandfather, James Henry Fuller, was aboard at the time of the sighting of the Sea Serpent, but when doing my family research I wanted to look into which ships he had served upon.  I am thankful to the help of David Dearborn from the Maine Maritime Museum, who was able to find out for me that James Fuller served as a mate on the Edward Waite during his sailing career.  

I will probably never know for sure, but I can imagine that he was one of the men to see and tell tales of Sea Serpents.


  1. Welcome to the Geneabloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family sagas
    and "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"

  2. Thanks, Dr. Bill. I will check out your blog. The family research data is interesting, but like you, I think the great stories are what bring it all to life.

  3. Great story, Chris! I'm another in agreement with you and Dr. Bill, the stories bring it all to life.

    Going another step further, having the ability to share the stories through our blogs allows many others with a common interest to add to their knowledge.

    I'm looking forward to your next post!

  4. Maybe it was an oarfish (once thought to be a sea serpant: - or a whale shark. In any case it makes for interesting reading.
    Theresa (Tangled Trees)

  5. Hi Theresa, I had never heard of an Oarfish before! I could see how they could easily be confused for a Sea Serpent. According to Wikipedia they are a seldom seen deep sea fish that can grow to be 50 feet long.

    Here is a video of one: