Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. III: Colonial Literature, 16071764
A Report of Wonders
By John Josselyn (fl. 16301675)
[From An Account of Two Voyages to New England. 1675.]
AT this time we had some neighboring gentlemen in our house, who came to welcome me into the country; where amongst variety of discourse they told me of a young lion (not long before) killed at Piscataway by an Indian; of a sea-serpent or snake, that lay coiled up like a cable upon a rock at Cape Ann: a boat passing by with English aboard, and two Indians, they would have shot the serpent, but the Indians dissuaded them, saying, that if he were not killed outright, they would be all in danger of their lives.
One Mr. Mittin related of a Triton or Merman which he saw in Casco Bay. The gentleman was a great fowler, and used to go out with a small boat or canoe, and fetching a compass about a small island (there being many small islands in the bay), for the advantage of a shot, was encountered with a Triton, who laying his hands upon the side of the canoe, had one of them chopt off with a hatchet by Mr. Mittin, which was in all respects like the hand of a man. The Triton presently sunk, dyeing the water with his purple blood, and was no more seen. The next story was told by Mr. Foxwell, now living in the province of Maine, who having been to the eastward in a shallop, as far as Cape Anna-waggon, in his return was overtaken by the night, and fearing to land upon the barbarous shore, he put off a little further to sea. About midnight they were wakened with a loud voice from the shore, calling upon Foxwell, Foxwell! come ashore! two or three times. Upon the sands they saw a great fire, and men and women hand in hand dancing round about it in a ring. After an hour or two they vanished, and as soon as the day appeared, Foxwell puts into a small cove, it being about three quarters flood, and traces along the shore, where he found the footing of men, women and children shod with shoes; and an infinite number of brands ends thrown up by the water, but neither Indian nor English could he meet with on the shore, nor in the woods. These with many other stories they told me, the credit whereof I will neither impeach nor enforce, but shall satisfy myself, and I hope the reader hereof, with the saying of a wise, learned and honorable knight, that there are many stranger things in the world, than are to be seen between London and Stanes.
In the afternoon I walked into the woods on the back side of the house, and happening into a fine broad walk (which was a sledge-way) I wandered till I chanced to spy a fruit as I thought like a pine-apple plated with scales. It was as big as the crown of a womans hat. I made bold to step unto it, with an intent to have gathered it. No sooner had I touched it, but hundreds of wasps were about me. At last I cleared myself from them, being stung only by one upon the upper lip. Glad I was that I escaped so well; but by that time I was come into the house my lip was swelled so extremely, that they hardly knew me but by my garments .
It was a good proviso of a learned man, never to report wonders, for in so doing, of the greatest he will be sure not to be believed, but laughed at; which certainly bewrays their ignorance and want of discretion. Of fools and madmen, then, I shall take no care. I will not invite these in the least to honor me with a glance from their supercilious eyes; but rather advise them to keep their inspection for their fine-tongued romances and plays. This homely piece, I protest ingenuously, is prepared for such only who well know how to make use of their charitable constructions towards works of this nature, to whom I submit myself in all my faculties .
There is an admirable rare creature in shape like a buck, with horns, of a gummy substance, which I have often found in the fall of the leaf upon the ground amongst the withered leaves; a living creature I cannot call it, having only the sign of a mouth and eyes. Seldom or never shall you meet with any of them whole, but the head and horns, or the hinder parts, broken off from the rest. The Indians call them tree bucks, and have a superstitious saying (for I believe they never see any of them living) that if they can see a tree buck walking upon the branches of an oak when they go out in a morning to hunt, they shall have good luck that day. What they are good for I know not, but certainly there is some more than ordinary virtue in them. It is true that nothing in nature is superfluous, and we have the Scripture to back it, that God created nothing in vain. The like creatures they have at the Barbadoes which they call Negroes heads, found in the sands, about two inches long, with forehead, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, and part of the neck, they are always found loose in the sands without any root, it is as black as jet, but whence it comes they know not. I have read likewise, that in the Canaries or Fortunate Islands, there is found a certain creature, which boys bring home from the mountains as oft as they would, and named them Tudesquels or little Germans: for they were dried dead carcasses, almost three-footed, which any boy did easily carry in one of the palms of his hand, and they were of an human shape; but the whole dead carcass was clearly like unto parchment, and their bones were flexible, as it were gristles; against the sun, also, their bowels and intestines were seen. Surely, saith my author, the destroyed race of the Pigmies was there.
I have not done yet. We must not forget the cormorant, shape or shark; though I cannot commend them to our curious palates, the Indians will eat them when they are flayed. They take them prettily; they roost in the night upon some rock that lies out in the sea; thither the Indian goes in his birch canoe when the moon shines clear, and when he is come almost to it, he lets his canoe drive on of itself, when he is come under the rock he shoves his boat along till he come just under the cormorants watchman, the rest being asleep, and so soundly do sleep that they will snore like so many pigs; the Indian thrusts up his hand of a sudden, grasping the watchman so hard round about his neck that he cannot cry out; as soon as he hath him in his canoe he wrings off his head, and making his canoe fast, he clambereth to the top of the rock, where walking softly he takes them up as he pleaseth, still wringing off their heads; when he hath slain as many as his canoe can carry, he gives a shout which awakens the surviving cormorants, who are gone in an instant .
There is also a dark dunnish worm or bug of the bigness of an oaten straw, and an inch long, that in the spring lie at the root of corn and garden plants all day, and in the night creep out and devour them; these in some years destroy abundance of Indian corn and garden plants, and they have but one way to be rid of them which the English have learnt of the Indians; and because it is somewhat strange, I shall tell you how it is. They go out into a field or garden with a birchen dish, and spuddling the earth about the roots, for they lie not deep, they gather their dish full which may contain about a quart or three pints. Then they carry the dish to the sea-side when it is ebbing water and set it a swimming; the water carrieth the dish into the sea and within a day or two if you go into your field you may look your eyes out sooner than find any of them .
The toad is of two sorts, one that is speckled with white, and another of a dark earthy color; there is of them that will climb up into trees and sit croaking there; but whether it be of a third sort, or one of the other, or both, I am not able to affirm; but this I can testify that there be toads of the dark colored kind that are as big as a groat loaf. Which report will not swell into the belief of my sceptic sirs; nor that there is a hell, being like Solomons fool, Prov. xxvi. 22.