From the Hills: Notes in a Bottle

By Sylvia Peterson
Posted 10/3/22

Husband and I are going to Oregon in a few days to talk about an especially challenging time in our marriage and how God restored us. We think telling personal stories is important. The Bible is …

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From the Hills: Notes in a Bottle


Husband and I are going to Oregon in a few days to talk about an especially challenging time in our marriage and how God restored us. We think telling personal stories is important. The Bible is written with hundreds of them. For an attentive listener, they provide encouragement to others.  

There has been an evolution in how we communicate and share our lives with one another.  Some of us still prefer face-to-face, even though we’ve learned how to send snippets of text with a corresponding emoji. It hasn’t always been that way. 

People used to send notes in bottles. 

There’s an allure to discovering messages wound up, stuffed in a bottle and thrown into the sea.

My cousin Barbara and I spent hours poking under logs and rocks at Bandon Beach, hoping to find someone’s treasure map, love note or message of distress. Unlike the quick, mindless way we communicate today, that handwritten message could have bobbed up and down for hundreds of miles, for hundreds of years.  

Clint Buffington wrote “Message in a Bottle Hunter” after he found one in the Turks and Caicos and spent a year tracking down the sender. 

“People have been sending messages in bottles for centuries for all kinds of reasons,” Buffington writes. 

“Some seek love, friendship, or scientific data about ocean currents, and others hope to raise awareness about plastic pollution. Some send messages as jokes or hoaxes, and still others send them in memory of lost loved ones.” 

While the exact origins of the tradition isn’t known, many believe one of the earliest records of tucking messages into sealed containers dates back to around 310 BCE. One of Aristotle’s students sent bottles into the sea when he wanted to confirm the Mediterranean was created from waters flowing in from the Atlantic Ocean.

Queen Elizabeth I thought bottled messages were being used to send secrets from spies in the 16th century. She made it a crime to open any sealed bottles found from the sea.

There are amazing tales of bottles found after that. A Japanese seaman named Chunosuke Matsuyama was shipwrecked on a South Pacific island in the 18th century. He is purported to have inscribed a message into coconut wood, which was discovered in 1935. 

Jeremiah Burke was aboard the Titanic’s fateful trip with a bottle of holy water that his mother had given him. He used that bottle and chucked it into the sea as the ship sank in 1912. A year later it was found ashore in Ireland, not far from where his family lived. Inside, the note read: “From Titanic, goodbye all, Burke of Glanmire, Cork.”

Private Thomas Hughes stuffed a letter into a green ginger beer bottle and tossed it in the English Channel in 1914 as he went to fight in World War I. It was found nearly 85 years later and delivered to his daughter who was living in New Zealand. 

“Dear Wife, I am writing this note on the boat and dropping it into the sea just to see if it will reach you. If it does, sign this envelope on the right hand bottom corner where it says receipt. Put the date and hour and your name. Ta ta sweet, for the present. Your Hubby.”

My cousin and I never found bottles with mysterious messages, but the possibilities provided hours of delight. Sometimes when I am tapping the send button on my phone, I miss our belief that something wonderful might be hiding under the next drift of sand, rock cave or beached log.  

Our stories are important. Let’s courageously tell each other more of them. 


Sylvia Peterson is former co-pastor for Bald Hill Community Church and the author of “The Red Door: Where Hurt and Holiness Collide,” which can be purchased at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. She and her husband are chaplains for the Bald Hills Fire Department. You can email her at


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