J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, July 14, 2014

Lieutenant Little Chases a Sea Serpent

George and Luther Little were two brothers from Marshfield who both served as officers aboard the Massachusetts navy vessel Protector under Capt. John Foster Williams from 1779 to 1781.

Luther, the younger by two years, was badly wounded during a sea battle. Later George was captured, held briefly on the Jersey prison ship, and sent to the Mill Prison in England. He and other officers bribed a guard and escaped to France.

In 1804, George wrote a letter to Alden Bradford about another of his adventures during the war. In 1820 that letter was published in the American Journal of Science as follows:
Marshfield, 13th March, 1804.

In answer to yours of the 30th of January last, I observe, that in May, 1780, I was lying in Round Pond, in Broad Bay [off Waldoboro, Maine], in a public armed ship. At sunrise, I discovered a large Serpent, or monster, coming down the bay, on the surface of the water. The Cutter was manned and armed. I went myself in the boat, and proceeded after the Serpent. When within a hundred feet, the marines were ordered to fire on him, but before they could make ready, the Serpent dove. He was not less than from 45 to 50 feet in length; the largest diameter of his body, I should judge, 15 inches; his head nearly of the size of that of a man, which he carried four or five feet above the water. He wore every appearance of a common black snake. When he dove he came up near Muscongus Island—we pursued him, but never came up within a quarter of a mile of him again.

A monster of the above description was seen in the same place, by Joseph Kent, of Marshfield, 1751. Kent said he was longer and larger than the main boom of his sloop, which was 85 tons. He had a fair opportunity of viewing him, as he was within ten or twelve yards of his sloop.

I have the honor to be, sir, Your friend and humble servant,
A couple of decades later, Luther Little dictated his memoirs, eventually published in the Journal of American History. Luther corroborated his older brother’s experience:
The Capt. thought it necessary to put into an eastern port for wood and water;—we sail’d for Broad Bay, and arrived at the mouth and anchored in a cove near the shore, called Muscongus. The Capt. made arrangements with a farmer at this place to land our sick, at an out building leaving the surgeons mate to take care of them, making a sort of hospital. I was then sufficiently recovered [from my wound] to be able to walk the deck. The next day, at four in the afternoon, we discovered a large black snake coming down from out the bushes abreast the ship; he took the water and swam by us; we judged him to be 40 feet long, and his middle the size of a man’s body; he carried his head six feet above water. We manned a barge, and went in chase of him; when fired at, he would dive like a sea-fowl. They chased him a mile and a half firing continually. The snake landed at Lowd’s Island, and disappeared in the woods. The barge returned to the ship.
Luther’s account suggests he saw the serpent from the deck of the Protector but didn’t join George in the boat that chased it.

Did anyone outside the Little family tell this odd story?

TOMORROW: Tales from a midshipman.

(The Protector was a 26-gun frigate launched in 1779. The picture above shows H.M.S. Cleopatra, a 32-gun frigate launched the same year; that’s the closest I could find.)

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