Myth Monday: The First Recorded UFO Sighting in America

By Kara Newcastle


(C) Ricktails, via Wikimedia Commons


First off, let me say

  1. Storming Area 51 is a seriously bad idea
  2. If you’re actually going to do it, livestream it so I can watch.

And I’m really kicking myself today for not buying that Area 51 book I saw at Barnes and Noble yesterday!

That aside, I found what might be the first recorded case of both a UFO sighting and abduction/lost time situation in American history—and it happened in my home state of Massachusetts!

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In 1639, a mere nineteen years after the pilgrims established their colony at Plymouth, Governor John Winthrop (grandfather of Waitstill Winthrop, an early judge in the Salem witch trials), sat down on March 1 to record in his diary the strange events that had happened near Boston and the village of Charlestown a short time before. He wrote that one James Everell and two friends were rowing along the Muddy River one evening when they noticed a strange glowing light in the night sky. They watched with mounting apprehension as the light would hover in place and flare up and die down over regular intervals. When it moved, the light transformed into the shape of a “swine,” as Winthrop described it (it’s interesting to note that the Puritans frequently reported cases of hog-like demons, including several alleged encounters recounted during the witch trials), and would tear back and forth across the sky between the three men and Charlestown, which was about two miles away.

The three men said that they watched the light hover and zip about for nearly three hours before it finally vanished into the night. Once the strange light had disappeared, James Everell and his friends were shocked to find that they had moved a mile upstream—with no memory of how they got there. They didn’t paddle there, and the tide should have carried them downriver to the bay, not up it. They had no explanation of it. (It’s possible that the wind pushed them along or the tide had reversed, but we’ll never know.)

Winthrop noted that James Everell was known as a “sober and discreet man”, which, in Puritanical speak, meant he wasn’t a drunk and not prone to exaggeration. In addition, several other people in the village reported seeing the same strange light that evening, moving in the same bizarre pattern.

Seeing as how the three men had been closed to a swamp when the sighting occurred, it’s possible that they saw a cloud of swamp gas. But swamp gas doesn’t form the shape of a pig and go zooming back forth across the night sky. Nor does it make a repeat appearance; on January 18, 1644, Winthrop wrote that three more men in a boat coming into Boston at midnight saw two lights rise up out of the water. The lights took a shape “like a man,” according to Winthrop, traveled towards the south a little way, then vanished.


Fort Warren, Georges Island Boston Harbor. (C) Peb765 via Wikimedia Commons


The lights appeared for an encore one week later, again at night, over Boston Harbor. Winthrop wrote that the lights joined and separated several times, and occasionally “shot out flames and sometimes sparkles.” A number of people were said to have witnessed the event.

At this same time, a disembodied, sinister voice was heard calling out, “Boy! Boy! Come away!”, traveling between Boston and the town of Dorchester, lasting about 2 weeks and heard by many people before stopping.

Interestingly, Governor Winthrop had a theory regarding these latest creepy conundrums; in his diary, Winthrop remarked that where the lights in the bay had been most recently sighted was close to the area where a ship had exploded some time before. A load of gunpowder had been ignited accidently, and the explosion killed five sailors. Four of the sailors’ bodies had been recovered but the fifth one, the body of the man who was thought to have caused the explosion—a man who had boasted that he could speak to the dead—was never found. Perhaps an evil spirit had taken the dead man’s voice and was using it to lure people away?

Hey, for a guy living in the 17th century, that’s as good an explanation as any.

There seem to be no more reports of strange lights or flying machines until the early 1900s, when a UFO decided to have fun scaring the crap out of people in Worcester, Massachusetts, and then a bunch of aliens turned Bridgewater and Fitchburg into tourist stops … and went apple picking in Lunenberg … but those are stories for another time.


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