Five-year-old Jessamine Buck got the scare of her life when she encountered a “sea monster” during a visit to the beach in 1884.
As an old woman, the memory remained fresh in her mind as she related the tale to Janet Langston Jones, who recorded the conversation in the Vol. 13, No. 4 edition of the Independent Republic Quarterly.
The 25-mile journey from her home in Bucksport to beaches near present-day Pawleys Island was quite an ordeal involving a river crossing and the fording of tidal creeks.
“One of our favorite summer pastimes was shell hunting and on this particular day Mama consented for my older sister, Iola, and me to go the beach…although Mama warned us against swimming,” said Jessamine. “On this occasion, to make sure that we did not get into trouble, she sent Rozanna, the maid, along with us.”
Jessica said the little party gathered huge conch shells and played at the edge of the surf, playing dash and dare with the waves.
“It was then that we saw the monster,” said Jessamine. “Just beyond an incoming breaker, he raised his whiskered yellow head.”
The little girl said she screamed and ran.
“It was a long way back to the house; and left far behind by the older two, I despaired of ever making it. My hot sticky clothes held my body close. The wind seemed to encircle me with hot arms of restraint while the loose sand sucked me down. I felt that I was scarcely moving up the steep side of the sea oats that scratched my wet face as I struggled to the top of the sandhill.”
She dropped to her seat and slid down the slope on the other side, not daring to look back to see if she was being pursued.
By the time she reached the porch of her home, Iola and Rozanna were already there telling her mother the story. Her mother gently unfastened Jessamine’s bonnet and loosened her damp hair.
“Now,” she said with incomprehensible calm, “Just tell me, what did the thing look like?”
“Like a big yellow dog, Mama. Like an enormous yellow dog. Except it wasn’t a dog. Oh, Mama, let’s go. Let’s go home right now. I don’t want to stay here another minute. Please let Sam take us back to Bucksport.”
Jessamine’s mother instructed the servant, Sam, to go on horseback to check out the situation.
Before long, he came riding hard over the sand dunes. Pulling the horse up to the porch, he panted, “The chilluns are right Missus. It’s a monster for sho’. I’ve lived in these parts a long time, but I ain’t never seen nothing like that afore in all my days.”
Sam said the sea monster bellowed, “This ain’t my home. This ain’t my home.”
His recollection proved to be true because the grownups decided to read the newspapers, only to learn that a sea lion had escaped from a zoo in Baltimore and had been seen off the coast.
It was captured later near Charleston.
“No matter that the mystery was solved and the monster caged: for the remainder of that summer Iola and I did not go back to the strand without strong adult protection,” recalled Jessamine.
Read more history of Horry County at