America’s first UFO

Apologies for my light posting these last few months, and thanks to all who have kept things going. I aim to pick up the pace a bit in the new year (though if anyone out there would like to take over social media duties drop me a line; I just don’t have the time to promote this blog like it deserves to be). The podcast is coming slowly but well, with the first three or four episodes beginning to take shape, some sources picked, and I’ve even put pen to paper on one of the scripts. Stay tuned.

Also, Ron Fournier’s book Love That Boy is out in April. You dads out there, pick it up, it’s bound to be great. I helped with a little research when it was still in the early stages, and am excited to see what the final product looks like.

But back to Virginia. The lady and I joined my family for a Shakespeare doubleheader at Blackfriars Playhouse in Staunton last week, and in between we visited two members of the Virginia Antiquarian Booksellers Association. At Barrister’s Books, so named because it’s tucked into the alley behind the downtown courthouse, I picked up a collection of columns by George Holbert Tucker, the longtime Virginiana columnist for the Virginian-Pilot who got his start as an archivist for the WPA. They’re full of strange little details, like the third Earl of Southampton Henry Wriothesley being visited in the Tower of London by his loyal cat, who kept its notorious rats at bay, John Pory’s drinking habits, a congressman’s attempt to repatriate Pocohontas’s remains, and more.

There’s one that probably won’t fit into the podcast’s story, but it’s so good I’ll transcribe it for you here, about the first UFO sighting in British America, on July 25, 1813. Unfortunately the book does not date when the columns were published, but they appeared in the Virginian-Pilot and Ledger-Star. Tucker begins by noting the more recent UFO sightings in 1965-67 before telling the story:

… the 1813 UFO recorded by the Norfolk County man easily matched all of the recent Virginia-oriented ones described in Vallee’s book and elsewhere, plus humorous touches lacking in the others. SO, first a word concerning the man who saw the aerial object and reported it to Thomas Jefferson.

Edward Hansford, the man who reported the UFO in 1813 over what is now Chesapeake, was a member of an old York County family that acquired notoriety in 1676 when one of its members, Major Thomas Hansford, was hanged by Sir William Berkeley for the traitorous role he played in Bacon’s Rebellion.

The later Hansford, a carpenter, was living in Norfolk County during the Revolution, working on forts erected by the Commonwealth. In 1784, he married Ann Kidd in Norfolk County. In 1802, he was appointed harbormaster for the District of Norfolk and Portsmouth.

At the time of the sighting, Hansford operated the Washington Tavern on London Street in Portsmouth, the sign of which depicted the Father of Our Country commanding his troops on one side and planting a field on the other. When Hansford died is not known, but his widow survived until 1832, running a fashionable boarding house on East Main Street in Norfolk where in 1824 she was Lafayette’s hostess.

So much for prologue. The following is the significant excerpt from Hansford’s letter to Jefferson, dated Portsmouth, July 13, 1813, in which he described the strange object that he and a Baltimore citizen named Jon L. Clark witnessed.

“We the subscribers most earnestly solicit, that your honor will give us your opinion on the following extraordinary phenomenon viz.: At (the exact time is omitted in the letter) hour on the night of the 25th instant, we saw int he South a Ball of fire as full as large as the sun at Maridian (sic) which was frequently obscured within the space of ten minutes by a smoke emitted from its own body, but apparently retained its brilliancy, and form during that period, but with apparent agitation. It then assumed the form of a turtle which also appeared to be much agitated and as frequently obscured by a similar smoke. It descended obliquely to the West, and raised again perpendicular to its original hite (sic) which was on or about 75 degrees. It then assumed the shape of a human skeleton which was frequently obscured by a like smoke and as frequently descended and ascended – it then assumed the form of a Scotch Highlander arrayed for battle and extremely agitated, and ultimately passed to the West and disappeared in its own smoke.”

Whether Jefferson answered Hansford’s letter is now unknown, but one thing is certain: The liquor provided by the Washington Tavern must have been pretty potent. Otherwise, how can we account for Hansford’s transformation of what was a legitimate UFO into a human skeleton or a Scotch Highlander?

If Georgio Tsoukalos feels like visiting Southside to explore Virginia’s extraterrestrial connections, I am at his service.

One comment

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