The First UFO Sighting Report In America: Puritans See A Giant Flaming Flying Pig?

Norman Byrd

When people talk about the first UFO sighting in America, most automatically think back to the 1947 Roswell crash or the so-called Battle of Los Angeles during World War II (1942), but many would be surprised to know that sightings of UFOs have been going on for centuries.

In fact, according to, the first UFO sighting report in what would one day become the United States was made by none other than the founder and governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop. The leader of the Puritan colony kept a journal wherein he recorded the goings-on of his fellow colonists. And in his entry for March 1, 1639, Winthrop retold an "unusual" tale that had been making the rounds in the colony earlier in the year.

According to Winthrop, James Everell, an English colonist he described as "a sober, discreet man," and two others were out on the Muddy River rowing in a boat. They were traveling through swampland when they saw a rather large light in the night sky. "When it stood still, it flamed up, and was about three yards square," the governor recorded, "when it ran, it was contracted into the figure of a swine." Winthrop wrote that over the next two to three hours, the trio of boatmen had said that the strange light "ran as swift as an arrow" back and forth between their position on the river and the nearby village of Charlestown, which was approximately a two-mile arc. For added credibility to, Winthrop noted, "Diverse other credible persons saw the same light, after, about the same place."

The UFO sighting wasn't the only strange thing to occur on the nighttime boat ride, though. Governor Winthrop wrote that, following the hours-long sighting, the three men were shocked to discover that they were a mile upstream from their former position. Having no memory of the rowing the boat against the tide, it was if the light had somehow transported them upriver. (It was noted by that the boat's upstream position might have been a result of being pushed by the wind or being carried by a reverse tidal flow.)

The authors of Wonders in the Sky: Unexplained Aerial Objects from Antiquity to Modern Times, Jacques Vallee and Chris Aubeck, have a theory as to what might have occurred to the three Puritans. They wrote: "The mysterious repositioning of the boat could suggest that they were unaware of part of their experience. Some researchers would interpret this as a possible alien abduction if it happened today."

In short, the first UFO sighting in America may have also been the first alien abduction as well.

It has been speculated that the "flamed up" light in the sky could have been an "ignis fatuus," which defines as "a pale light that can appear over marshland at nighttime due to the combustion of gas from decomposed organic matter." But the light seen by the three men did not rise from the swamp, at least not according to Winthrop's retelling. Instead, it was seen shooting back and forth across the sky, movement that makes the "ignis fatuus" explanation seem unlikely.

Also in the realm of speculation is that the Puritan UFO sighting may have been the origination of the term "when pigs fly." Given the seeming outlandishness of the claims of the three boatmen, it would seem a fitting origin for the commonly used phrase that means that whatever is being referenced is an impossibility. However, The Phrase Finder notes that "when pigs fly" was first documented in 1616 in John Withals's English-Latin dictionary, A Shorte Dictionarie for Yonge Begynners(and is said to be from a Scottish proverb).

A flying pig sighting or not, the incident, believed to be the first UFO sighting in America, was just one of three separate UFO sightings Governor John Winthrop recorded in his journal.

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