Massachusetts in the early 1600s was a bleak destination, though one with promise. In the early years of the settlement of the Massachusetts Bay, Governor John Winthrop brought just shy of 1000 colonists over from England, first stopping at Salem before moving on toward the Shawmut Peninsula, where they would establish the settlement that would eventually become Boston.
Nearly 200 of the settlers died under the extreme living conditions of that first American winter. Others, if not ill from the harsh weather, were sick of the trials of settlement; a number of the disillusioned returned to England in the spring. However, with the slow growth of the settlement, living conditions improved under the labors of Winthrop and the steadily growing population of New Englanders; by the beginning of 1640, settlers in the new land exceeded 20,000.
During this first pivotal decade in the history of Massachusetts, John Winthrop kept a detailed journal of occurrences in the region, from those civic or political in nature to noteworthy religious events and other happenings.
There were other occurrences, too, which Winthrop chronicled in his journal, some of them quite curious. Such were the details of the entry marked for March 1, 1639, a portion of which read as follows:
In this year one James Everell, a sober, discreet man, and two others, saw a great light in the night at Muddy River. When it stood still, it flamed up, and was about three yards square; when it ran, it was contracted into the figure of a swine: it ran as swift as an arrow towards Charlton, and so up and down about two or three hours. They were come down in their lighter about a mile, and, when it was over, they found themselves carried quite back against the tide to the place they came from. Divers other credible persons saw the same light, after, about the same place.