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New York Folklore Quarterly, Vol. XXVI, No. 2, June 1970

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Vol. XXVI, No. 2, June 1970

L. D. Geller

Aye, we shall turn him to a good account;
of wealth and wonder the exhaustless fount
Let Salem boast her museum and her witches
Her statues Newb’ry, Marblehead her riches—
We from them all the shining now will take,
The snake and Glo’ster, Gio’ster and the snake.
IN THE month of August 1817, it was currently reported on various authorities that an animal of very singular appearance had been recently and repeatedly seen in the harbor of Gloucester, Cape Ann, about thirty miles distant from Boston. It was said to resemble a serpent in its general form and motions, to be of immense size, and to move with wonderful rapidity; to appear on the surface ol the water only in calm and bright weather; and to seem jointed or like a number of buoys or casks following each other in line.

In consequence of these reports at a meeting of the Linnaean Society held in Boston on August 18, 1817, the Honorable John Davis, Jacob Bigelow, M.D. and Francis C. Grey, Esq. were appointed a committee to collect evidence as to the existence and appearance of such an animal. The committee then wrote to the Honorable Lonson Nash of Gloucester, “requesting him to examine under oath some of the inhabitants oi that town with regard to the appearance of this animal, to make the examination as early as possible (after the event), to request persons examined not to communicate to each other the substance of their respective statements, until they were all committed to writing.” The same instructions were sent to Samuel Davis, Esq. of Plymouth, Massachusetts requesting him to “examine upon oath some respectable man of that place, with regard to the appearance of an animal said to have been seen in the year 1815, and to resemble the one lately seen in Gloucester.”

From the standpoint of the folklorist the examinations and testimonies were most significant....

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