When did Americans first encounter these mysterious phenomena in the sky? You might think it was in 1947, when pilot Kenneth Arnold reported seeing nine high-speed objects near Mount Rainier in Washington, coining the term “flying saucers”.
Or maybe you think it was in 1949, when rancher Mac Brazel found a strange wreckage near Roswell, New Mexico, sparking rumors of a crashed alien spacecraft.
But the truth is that America’s first UFO sighting was way earlier than you think. It happened in 1639, when the Puritans were still settling in New England.
A Great Light in the Night Sky
The story of America’s first UFO sighting was recorded by John Winthrop, the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in his diary.
Winthrop was a devout Puritan who led a group of English immigrants to establish a “city upon a hill” in the New World. He was also a keen observer of natural phenomena and wrote about comets, eclipses, earthquakes and other events in his journal.
On March 1, 1639, Winthrop wrote about a strange incident that had occurred earlier that year, involving three men who were rowing a boat in the Muddy River near Boston. According to Winthrop, the men saw “a great light in the night sky” that moved and changed shape. Winthrop wrote:
“In this year one James Everell, a sober, discreet man, and two others, saw a great light in the night at Muddy River,” Winthrop recorded in his journal on March 1st, 1639.
“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 swift as an arrow toward Charlton [Charlestown] and up and down about two or three hours.
“They were come down in their lighter [a small barge] about a mile, and, when it was over, they found themselves carried quite back against the tide to the place they came from. Divers[e] other persons saw the same light, after, about the same place.”
Winthrop added that other credible witnesses saw the same light around the same place.
On January 18th 1644, Winthrop reported another sighting: “About midnight, three men, coming in a boat to Boston, saw two lights arise out of the water near the north point of the town cove, in form like a man, and went at a small distance to the town, and so to the south point, and there vanished away.”
Then, just one week later, another mysterious encounter was “seen by many”: “A light like the moon arose about the N.E. point in Boston, and met the former at Nottles Island, and there they closed in one, and then parted, and closed and parted diverse times, and so went over the hill in the island and vanished. Sometimes they shot out flames and sometimes sparkles.”
A Possible Explanation?
What could have caused this bizarre phenomenon? Some modern researchers have suggested that it could have been an ignis fatuus, or will-o’-the-wisp, a pale light that sometimes appears over marshland due to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter.
However, this explanation does not account for the movement and shape of the light, nor for the displacement of the boat.
Another possibility is that the light was a meteor or a fireball, a bright and fast-moving object that enters Earth’s atmosphere from space. Meteors can appear in different colors and shapes depending on their composition and speed.
They can also create sonic booms and shock waves that could affect nearby objects. However, meteors usually last only a few seconds or minutes, not hours as Winthrop reported.
A third possibility is that the light was an aurora borealis, or northern lights, a natural display of colorful lights in the sky caused by charged particles from the sun interacting with Earth’s magnetic field.
Auroras can vary in shape, size and color depending on the solar activity and atmospheric conditions. They can also move across the sky and last for hours. However, auroras are usually seen at higher latitudes than Boston, and they do not produce sound or heat.
A Mystery Unsolved
The truth is that we may never know what exactly happened on that night in 1639. The event remains one of the earliest and most puzzling UFO sightings in American history.
It also shows that people have been fascinated by unexplained aerial phenomena long before the modern era of flying saucers and alien abductions.
Whether you believe that UFOs are extraterrestrial visitors, secret military projects or natural phenomena, you have to admit that they are intriguing and mysterious. And who knows? Maybe someday we will find out what really lies behind them.