Did Sea Serpents Once
Inhabit the Great Lakes?
some accounts collected by
Stories of sea serpents are almost as old as human habitation around the Great Lakes, and, for that matter, have been the topic of maritime lore around the world for hundreds of years. They are the "UFOs" of our ancestors.
For accounts of these antecedents of the Loch Ness Monster we must turn to the yellowed pages of old time newspapers that carried occasional accounts of sightings and encounters with these snake-like creatures of the freshwater deep.
There were people who actually believed such reptiles existed, and descriptions, although at widely different time periods and locations, are remarkably similar in character and description. What follows are a few samplings done with considerable research. To preserve the heritage of this subject as it relates to the Great Lakes, I have selected a few original newspaper articles. Undoubtedly there are more, and if readers have other accounts to add I would be pleased to add them to the "collection."
Oswego Palladium, Oswego, NY, Fri., Sept. 14, 1821
From the Niagara Democrat
It will be seen by the following depositions that the western lakes are like to engender as big snakes as the Atlantic, though the inhabitants on their margin have hitherto been prolific in the manufacture of big stories to correspond—an advantage long enjoyed by our Yankee Atlantic brethren.
THE SEA SERPENT NAVIGATING THE WESTERN LAKES.
Mr. Editor, Sir — The following affidavits of John Maupin of Montreal, and James Sigler of Jefferson Co. N. Y. describe a very large and singular animal that has made its appearance in Lake Ontario, resembling that celebrated sea fish or snake, which has crowded the columns of the eastern papers for the last two or three summers. This, there is but little doubt, is one of the same species, and that which was seen ascending the St. Lawrence last spring by some boatmen. W. H.
Personally appeared before me, G. S. Keefer, Esquire, one of his majesty's Justices of the Peace in and for the district of Niagara, John Maupin and James Sigler, and deposeth as follows:—
That on the morning of the 25th July, 1821, about one hundred miles from Niagara and about 20 from land, aboard the canoe Lightfoot, on our passage from Montreal to Mackinac, in company with eight voyagers, we discovered at the distance of five or six hundred yards a large body floating on the surface of the water, very much like a burnt log from 20 to 25 feet length; but on approaching it three or four hundred yards closer, it proved to be an animal motionless and apparently asleep. We continued to advance towards it until within 30 yards, when the animal raised its head about 10 feet out of the water, looking around him in the most awful and ferocious manner, and darting forward with great velocity, making the water fly in every direction, and throwing columns of it at a vertical height of seven or eight feet with his tail.
After having gone in a western direction about one or two miles, he appeared to resume his former state, we then resolved to attack him, and accordingly loaded our guns for this purpose, and moved slowly toward him within gun shot.
We here had a good view of the animal, he is at least thirty-seven feet long, two and a half feet in diameter, (if measured through the thickest part of the body) is covered with black scales which appeared to create consternation only, he disappearing as before—he has a tremendous head and similar to that of a common snake—frequently thrusting from his mouth a large red and venomous looking tongue. After the animal disappeared we continued our course with a lively oar as may well be imagined.
His figure when in motion is serpentine.
- Sworn to, signed, &C. in due form.
The editors of the Boston Gazette offer a reward of $10,000 for the Sea Serpent, dead or alive. His snakeship was seen at Nahant; his head was raised about thirteen feet out of water, and is shaped like that of a horse; he is about the thickness of a barrel and is 60 feet long.
John Rose, Marysburgh. UC. Sept. 16th, 1821.
Oswego Palladium, July 1, 1833
THE AMERICAN SEA SERPENT IN LAKE ONTARIO.
Our office has been favored with a visit from Captain Abijah Kellogg of the schooner Polythermus, of Sacket's arrived this morning from Rochester. This gentleman has related to us such a tale of wonder, a tale so incredible, that we scruple some, as the Yankees say it, laying his narration before our readers, lest they might think it but the creation of our imagination.
Capt. Kellogg states: Yesterday evening (June 15th) about 7 o'clock, as he was making for Kingston harbor, the "Ducks" bearing N. by W. distant two miles, he saw something lying still on the weather bow that looked like the mast of a vessel. Observing it more attentively, he was surprised and alarmed to see it in motion, and steering towards the schooner.
Singing out to his hands to take care of themselves, he put the schooner up to the wind, lashed the helm a lee, and run up the main rigging, waiting for the monster to approach. The serpent for it was no other than an immense snake, neared the vessel fast and passed immediately under her stern, taking no notice whatever of the schooner or those on board, but affording to every body an ample opportunity to observe and note his monstrous dimensions. In length he was about 175 feet, of a dark blue color, spotted with brown; towards either end he tapered off, but about the middle his body was of the circumference of a flour barrel, his head was peculiarly small and could not well be distinguished but from the direction in which he moved.
He swam with an undulating movement, keeping the best part of his body under water, but occasionally showing his entire length. He was in sight full fifteen minutes and when last seen was making the best of his way down the St. Lawrence. On board the schooner were two young men, the vessel's crew, together with three passengers, who are willing to be qualified to the truth of what has been here stated (British Whig).
Detroit Democratic Free Press, May 13, 1835
THE LAKE SERPENT
Who has not heard of the enormous serpent or snake of Lake Superior? — If we mistake not, this frightful monster has been occasionally mentioned by different writers and travellers as inhabiting those mighty waters; or can we imagine what should now have induced his departure therefrom.
But to the facts. Yesterday between the hours of 5 and 6 P.M. a regular built snake, destitute of all appearance of a mane, and of those phrenological bumps, for bunches which are said to be appurtenant to the old sea serpent—of slim formation, and apparently not less than 75 feet in length, and in the middle about 5 feet in circumference, or 20 inches in diameter—floating down the Detroit River, and passing the city, generally with his head elevated 5 to 8 feet, as in an attitude of surveying, alternately, the scenery presented on either shore—sometimes carried along by the current, coiled as if prepared to spring upon his prey, and at other times stretching forward, at full length, as if to exhibit himself for the gratification and astonishment of his beholders—his back of a dark brown color, his sides a deep green, and his belly a dingy white, without fins—with small green but glistening eyes, encircled with red—at last plunging forward as in sport, and disappearing in the depths of the majestic river—was not seen.
Commercial Press, Pultneyville, NY, September 1867
THE SEA SERPENT
As the story has gone the rounds of the press, that a sea serpent has been seen in our lake by parties at different times, it would perhaps be well to state for the benefit of the public, the facts in the case as they have been told to us. Mr. Henry Stowell, of Oswego, says he owns the animal of which so much has been said having imported him at great expense from the Humbug Islands.
He keeps him at Blind Sodus at which place he has him boarded during the hot weather, and as soon as the weather becomes cool he intends to skin him and have it stuffed, of which men are coming from New Bedford for that purpose. He sends him from Oswego two old canal horses a week, of which costs him but a trifle, and they are towed up behind the American Steamers, are cut adrift in the lake when opposite that place, when they are then towed in by boats for his use.
It has been the intention of Mr. Stowell to keep him under close confinement, and for this purpose only was Blind Sodus selected for his home. He has occasionally stolen away and visited different localities about the lake, and when he has been seen, has made hideous noises in imitation of the parties present. Mr. S., has now sent up a horse tamer to subdue him.
Detroit Free Press, July 31, 1895
Capt. George Robarge, master of the propeller S. S. Curry, says the sea serpent is not a myth. With his own eyes, he beheld the hideous monster. It was sunset, says the captain, on his last trip down from Duluth, when near White Fish Point (Lake Superior) that the antediluvian reptile thrust its long neck above the surface some 400 yards distant from the CURRY. For fully five minutes, the submarine beast kept itself in view and amused itself by racing with the propeller. The captain, the second mate and the watchman all saw the curious creature. They leveled the glasses up on it with interest, seasoned with a little dread. The serpent's neck was some 15 feet in length and its jaws parted a foot or more. Ever and anon its body rose above the waves and revealed a strange undulating motion. Suddenly it disappeared and was seen no more.
© 2001, Richard F. Palmer
The author wishes to thank Great Lakes Marine Historian David Swayze for furnishing information for this article.