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New England’s first UFO sightings

By Thomas D’Agostino

I have not covered the subject of UFOs much in my writings, but this particular piece of New England history became of great interest to me. When I was a young lad I was into the UFO sightings and stories. I always carried a copy of Project Blue Book with me and had memorized every case within its pages. This account predates the cases scribed within the aforementioned book by over three hundred years. It comes by way of John Winthrop’s journal. The sighting took place over the Charles River in Boston in 1639 and at some point, Winthrop saw fit to add it into his journal. Here is what he wrote.

“In this year one James Everell, a sober, discreet man, and two others, saw a great light in the night at Muddy River. When it stood still, it flamed up, and was about three yards square; when it ran, it was contracted into the figure of a swine: it ran as swift as an arrow towards Charlton, and so up and down about two or three hours. They were come down in their lighter about a mile, and, when it was over, they found themselves carried quite back against the tide to the place they came from. Divers other credible persons saw the same light, after, about the same place.”

Muddy River is located at Back Bay diagonally across from Charlestown. Winthrop mentions it in his writing as Charlton. In the time of this sighting, Puritans occupied Boston and just the witnessing of this event must have had them fearing the work of the devil. The fact that it mentions the UFO being witnessed for two or three hours is quite astonishing. Of course, this was before the study of such sightings and was to many an unholy omen.

The men finding themselves back where they started against the tide certainly did not help their fears much. What did they actually see? There are theories but with the scanty evidence penned in Winthrop’s journal we can only surmise it was for now, an unidentified flying object.

Journals and diaries tell a lot about our past. In some cases, small entries can lead to large amounts of research, tying together lost bits of information that may lead to answers one is searching for. In the case of early UFO sightings, the witnesses were not sure what they saw and did not think of extraterrestrials from outer space paying a possible visit to our planet. Another such entry appears in the diary of a Maine schoolteacher, Cynthia Everett.  Her recollections of an event she entered in her diary for July 22, 1808 reads as such,

“About 10 o’clock I saw a very strange appearance. It was a light, which proceeded from the East. At the first sight, I thought it was a métier (meteor), but from its motion I soon perceived it was not. It seemed to dart at first as quickly as light; and appeared to be in the Atmosphere, but lowered toward the ground and kept on at an equal distance sometimes ascending and sometimes descending. It moved round in the then visible horizon (it was not very light) and then returned back again, nor did we view it till it was extinguished.”

Everett, a 24-year old Rutland, Massachusetts, native, kept her diary from 1804 to 1815. Being a schoolteacher, she was well educated and was well aware of the night sky. Back in 1808 there were no city lights, airplanes, hot air balloons or any other type of light we see today that could attribute to such phenomena. The skies were clear and visible. She did not explain it as a natural phenomenon, although she did write that at first she perceived it to be a meteor, but quickly realized by the erratic course the object took, it was something she had never seen.

When we think of UFOs we often think of the flying saucer shaped objects of the 1950s science fiction movies. I can only wonder what these people saw way back then and what they may have actually looked like if spied "up close."