In March 1639, America's first recorded UFO was sighted late one night over the Charles River in Boston, Massachusetts. Lights sped back and forth across the Charles River from Back Bay Fens to Charlestown. Governor John Winthrop made an entry in his journal regarding this strange event. This account was later published in The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649 (John Harvard Library) The witness and incident were described as follows:
"One night in March of 1638 or 1639, James Everell ("a sober, discreet man"- Winthrop) and two companions boarded a little boat and set out for a trip on the Muddy River in Boston. They had been moving downstream for about a mile when the night's mysterious events began. The three men were suddenly confronted with the appearance of a huge, bright light hovering in the sky. The light "flamed up" as it hovered and appeared to be about "three yards square." As they watched, the light "contracted into the figure of a swine" and moved "swift as an arrow" in the direction of Charlton [Charlestown]. For two or three hours, the unidentified light moved back and forth in the sky between Everell's location and Charlton. When the light finally disappeared, the men noticed to their dismay that they had somehow been carried against the tide back to the place where they had started their trip! Governor Winthrop noted, "Divers[e] other credible persons saw the same light, after, about the same place."!"
Governor Winthrop appears to have been puzzled by the occurrence, devoting no less than two separate notes about it in the index to his history. The first merely gives a lengthy rendering of the sobriety and piety of the primary witness James Everell (“a good man of reputation, activity and good estate”) and another detailed note speculating whether the sighting was due to “demonic influences” or was ghost lights or will o’ the wisps (an early version of swamp gas).
It's worth noting that the figure in the sky appeared to turn into "the figure of a swine." Everell was a leather dresser, meaning he worked with the hides of animals, tanned them, and turned them into leather goods. The "swine" or pig was the only shape in his mind that he could relate to. A far as legs of the swine, is it possible that these were struts or landing gear of a craft?
Winthrop's account also claims the event lasted two or three hours, which rules out any chance of the object being a meteor. 1638 was almost 150 years before the first balloon flights, so the possibility of the object being man-made is also ruled out. The witness also claims that their small boat was pushed back against the tide about one mile (back to where they first set their boat in the water) while they watched the object in the sky. Could this be a "lost time" phenomena? Were they physically moved by the object in the sky? Could it be they were mistaken as to the tide because they were distracted by the unidentified object in the sky? This UFO close encounter may have been more close than originally thought.
As to Winthrop's trust of the witness, stating that he was "a sober, discreet man" he also included a footnote about Everell: "He was a man of reputation, activity and good estate in Boston many years afterwards. With his wife, Elizabeth, he had been received into Boston church 20 of July, 1634, being Nos. 239, 240. His will, made 11 December, 1682, proved 2 February following, is found in our Probate Registry, vol. VI. 400."
The following footnote about the sighting was added in the 1825 edition of Winthrop's Journal:
"This account of an ignis fatuus [pale light over marshy ground] may easily be believed on testimony less respectable than that which was adduced. Some operation of the devil, or other power beyond the customary agents of nature, was probably imagined by the relaters and hearers of that age, and the wonder of being carried a mile against the tide became important corroboration of the imagination. Perhaps they were wafted [carry lightly], during the two or three hours' astonishment, for so moderate a distance, by the wind; but, if this suggestion be rejected, we might suppose, that the eddy [whirlpool], flowing always, in our rivers, contrary to the tide in the channel, rather than the meteor, carried their lighter back."
|The area of Muddy River where the UFO was probably sighted|
Muddy River is located at Back Bay Fens, opposite Cambridge, MA, and diagonally across from Charlestown. Back Bay wasn't filled-in at that time, and a large area of open water existed in the river that was then called Broad Bay. The distance to Charlestown would have been more than two miles.
The Charles River, prior to being dammed, had great tidal flow, and would drain much of Back Bay each day, and then replenish it. Muddy River likely had a larger volume of water flowing through it in 1639, but it is unlikely that a great eddy existed near its mouth. Thus, it is unusual for witnesses to assert they were unmoved by tidal flow (in a small boat) for more than two hours.
Muddy River, the hamlet, eventually became the separate town of Brookline. Pigs and other cattle were stored there during summer while corn was growing in Boston. It is safe to deduce that the UFO witnesses had seen or heard swine on the same day they observed the great light. Thus, the lights resembled a common animal, making it probable they saw ignis fatuus mirage phenomena in the darkness.
In any case, the event was observed by divers (many) people, and noteworthy enough for the Puritan Governor to document it in his private journal. It's also interesting that Winthrop, an overtly religious man, would summarily dismiss any supernatural origins to the story he heard. Perhaps a glowing, flying pig didn't fit into his understanding of scripture, so his thoughts didn't go in that direction. Besides the one paragraph and two footnotes, Winthrop writes nothing more on the subject of North America's first UFO sighting and possible alien abduction.
John Winthrop, Esquire (1588-1649) has the distinction of being the first elected governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Winthrop was an English Puritan who sought religious refuge in the New World. He was passionate about his faith, and he believed God would punish England for not expunging any remaining traces of Roman Catholicism from the Church of England. It's important to note Winthrop's beliefs because it's possible he may interpret any out-of-the-ordinary event as being religious in nature.
The pilgrims aboard the Mayflower had already blazed the trail in 1620, so when Winthrop arrived in 1629, an English colony was already well established. The smallpox virus that the English carried to America had wiped out many of the indigenous peoples -- and Winthrop viewed the epidemic as God's way of clearing the land for the good Christians from England.
Perhaps the greatest legacy John Winthrop left behind was his chronicles. He knew there were few learned men in America with the time and ability to document the history as it was being written. Winthrop wrote down the events he witnessed and the stories he heard in a giant tome called The History of New England From 1630 to 1649 which was later published in 1790.
Mysteries of the Skies: Ufos in Perspective
U.F.O.'s and extra-terrestrials in history
A Geo-Bibliography of Anomalies: Primary Access to Observations of UFOs, Ghosts, and Other Mysterious Phenomena
The Journal of John Winthrop, 1630-1649: Abridged Edition (John Harvard Library)
John Winthrop: America's Forgotten Founding Father