By John C. Flanders, Newington, Conn.
Thoreau’s journal entry of June 14, 1857 describes a Sea Monster sighting off of the coast of Duxbury, Massachusetts By Daniel Webster and his boatman Seth Peterson. Having some of Daniel Webster’s property in my family I feel a connection to Daniel Webster and some of his close friends, My dad bought Webster’s Boathouse from the Peterson family. They were descendants of Daniel Webster’s original boatman and lived across the street from my uncle Charlie, who used to joke about fixing up my 90-year-old grandmother with the elder Peterson with the nickname Vinegar. My grandmother would laugh and tell him to shut up. Along with the boathouse came the lobster traps and buoys which Dad and I fished with the old Peterson colors black and yellow,
The last Peterson I remember had a nickname Red and remained a loyal friend of my Dad’s. He was considered an expert marine engine mechanic by one of the local lobstermen who raved about how he repaired his engine. On the opposite Side of the street from Webster’s boathouse was the Simmons family, who were descendants of Daniel Webster’s Hunting Guide.
So, growing up I walked through Daniel Webster’s boathouse, swam in his channel walked on his marsh, dug his clams, slept in his gunning shack and yes I think I saw his monster.
One of the Petersons swore in Court that Mr. Webster always gave the appearance of someone with all his wits about him I believe he wanted to let people know that his father and Webster really saw a sea monster. Well I think I can explain it and have this nagging compulsion to do so.
What really put me on the same course as the monster was my dad’s insistence that we live off of the land, so part of my summer diet was fresh mackerel, the same as the sea monster's. One day in midsummer 50 years ago, we cut the boat’s engine inside the Gurnet Point where we often fished for mackerel. Twenty-five yards away a giant tuna surfaced, larger than any that I’ve ever seen a picture of and most likely feeding on surface mackerel. When I heard and read the account of Webster’s sighting I felt a shiver as this is were Webster and Peterson saw the monster. He had a sailboat, so the engine was silent I think monsters like it quite. So what brings a giant tuna so close to shore and why the Gurnet? Well from amateur fishing all my life I’ve learned that the larger fish will sometimes corral and corner smaller fish against a protruding peninsula like the Gurnet, Rather than chase the bait fish for thousands of miles in the open sea it makes sense. So how does a giant tuna look like a sea monster? Think horizontal for a moment.
If the tuna decided to feed horizontally on a surface school of mackerel, its huge head would be above water so that the lower jaw could gulp the prey, the body is not buoyant and would be under water. Looking a ways back, the tuna has a spike and a tail fin thrashing at a high speed. This is a monster Steven Spielberg would be proud off and explains this hundred and fifty year old mystery of Webster's and Peterson's sighting. A local fisherman and longtime friend Mac had a sighting of a tuna near the Gurnet he was still fishing, so probably his engine was also off. My dad loved to tell the story of two men in a dory inshore with a tuna in the boat; they caught it on a keg line baited with mackerel So rest in peace Mr. Webster and Mr. Peterson I know you saw something and I think it was a giant tuna. Well I have to go to the fish market were all out of mackerel. Sorry Dad, they don’t seem to come up the Connecticut River we have to buy them.
Reference: Daniel Webster: New England Squire By L.D. Geller
Page 9 Entry from Thoreau's Journal June 14, 1857