Ship Captains: San Francisco 1800s


Captain Jason Seabury

There are several Captain Seabury's sailing during the 1800s. As they are sorted out, they will be separated below in order to determine which Captain Seabury sailed when.

On January 18, 1852, Captain Jason Seabury of the ship Monongahela spotted a wounded creature about one hundred feet long and sent out boats to harpoon it. The crew cut off the head as a trophy. The head was ten feet long and contained 94 sharp teeth.

In 1852 two New Bedford whaling vessels, the Monongahela and the Rebecca Sims, were drifting slowly in the Pacific doldrums, their sails limp from lack of wind. When the lookout's shout of "something big in the water" caused Captain Seabury of the Monongahela to use his telescope to view the object; he could distinguish only a huge living creature, thrashing about in the water as if in great agony. The captain's immediate deduction was that they had come upon a whale that had been wounded by the harpoons of another whaler's long-boats and was now dying.

Seabury ordered three longboats over the side to end the beast's pain, and he was in the first boat as it pulled alongside the massive thing that he still believed was a wounded whale. The instant a harpoon struck the beast, a nightmarish head 10 feet long rose out of the water and lunged at the boats. Two of the long-boats were capsized in seconds. Before the monster submerged, the terrified whalers realized at once that they were dealing with a sea creature the likes of which they had never seen.

Whalers off the Coast of Labrador, 1880
Thomas Birch

Whalers off the Coast of Labrador. 1880. Thomas Birch.

Unfurling her sails to catch what little wind there was, the Monongahela managed to come alongside the capsized longboats and began to pick up the seamen who were bobbing in the water, fearing that the hideous beast might at any moment resurface and eat them. The Rebecca Sims, under the command of Captain Gavitt, pulled alongside her sister ship, and the crews of the two ships began discussing the strange monster that they had encountered. The next morning, the crewmen had pulled in only about half of the line when the massive carcass suddenly popped to the surface. It was much greater in length than the ship, which measured 100 feet from stem to stern, and it had a thick body that was about 50 feet in diameter. Its color was a brownish gray with a light stripe about three feet wide running its full length. Its neck was 10 feet around, and it supported a grotesque head that was 10 feet long and shaped like that of a gigantic alligator.

The astounded crewmen counted 94 teeth in its ghastly jaws and each of the three-inch, saberlike teeth were hooked backward, like those of a snake.

Seabury was fully aware of the ridicule accorded to sailing masters and their crews who claimed to have encountered "sea serpents," so he gave orders that the hideous head be chopped off and placed in a huge pickling vat in order to preserve it until they returned to New Bedford. In addition, he wrote a detailed report of their harpooning the sea monster and he provided a complete description of the thing. Since Gavitt and his crew were homeward bound, Seabury gave him the report in order to prepare New Bedford for the astonishing exhibit that he and his men would bring with them upon their own return. If only Seabury would have transferred the grisly head to Gavitt's vessel along with his report of the monster, the doubting world would have had its first mounted sea serpent's head more than 150 years ago.

Map of Alaska. 1920. Harmsworth, Mapmaker.

Captain Seabury's account of the incredible sea serpent arrived safely in New Bedford and was entered into the records along with the personal oath of Captain Gavitt.

But the Monongahela never returned to port with its incredible cargo. Years later her nameboard was found on the shore of Umnak Island in the Aleutians.

Gavitt pledged to the pass the information on through Bridgeport's post office when his brig arrived. It must be assumed that Captain Gavitt kept his word, for a number of newspaper reports of Monongahela's encounter appeared throughout Europe, including an article in the London Times, dated March 10, 1852.

That was the last that was ever heard from Captain Seabury and his crew, as the Monongahela - and presumably the head of the monster - went down off the shore of Umnak Island near the Aleutians during that same expedition.


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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; CDNC: California Digital Newspaper Collection; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; and Maritime Museums and Collections in Australia, China, Denmark, England, Finland, Germany, Ireland, Wales, Norway, Scotland, Spain, Sweden, etc.

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