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that place to commence the enterprise of taking whales as a regular busi. ness, these animals being at that time very numerous around the coast; and, as early as 1672, we find the inhabitants entering into a formal con. tract with James Lopar, in which he engages to carry on the “whale citching" jointly with the town, for two years, on their giving to him ten acres of land in some convenient place, with commonage for two cows and twenty sheep and one horse, together with the necessary wood and water. The town were by this contract bound to carry on two thirds of the busi. ness, and himself the other third. This company was to have the monopoly of the trade, and no other company was permitted to engage in the traffic unless they should tender to this first organized body a portion of its shares. It was also provided that " whosoever kil any whale of the company or company's aforesaid, they are to pay to the town for every such whale five shillings." John Savage, a hardy New England man, was also procured to settle upon the island in the capacity of a cooper, upon nearly the same terms which had been made by the proprietors of the town with Lopar. We may suppose that the profits of this crude frame of enterprise were small
, but they were at least sufficient to induce the prosecution of this species of traffic.
Meanwhile, the people of Cape Cod had reached considerable proficiency in this branch of enterprise, and their success induced the fishermen of Nantucket to adopt more vigorous and systematic measures for its prose. cution. Accordingly, we find the inhabitants employing Ichabod Padduck as early as 1690, to instruct them respecting the best manner of taking the whale, and extracting the oil. The whaling expeditions from that port were then carried on in boats from the shore, and the white colonists de. rived important aid from the Indians, who manifested extraordinary aptness for the fishery of all kinds, and being placed in responsible stations as boat. steerers and headsmen, they soon became experienced and valuable whale. men. These boats, in search of their game, often ventured even out of sight of the land during the pleasant days of winter, and performed feats which are scarcely exceeded in our own day. After the whale had been killed, he was towed ashore, and an instrument termed a “crab," and which was similar to a capstan, was used to “heave off” the blubber as fast as it was cut. This blubber was then placed upon carts, and conveyed to“ try. houses" situated near their dwellings, where the oil was boiled out and prepared for market. For the purpose of enabling the fishermen to descry whales at a distance, a high spar was erected upon the shore, with cleats affixed to the top, where the whaleman with his spy-glass could be securely lodged, and command a broad view of the ocean." No sensible diminution of the whales upon the coast appears to have existed from the first thirty years of the fishery, although eighty-six were taken near the shore during the year 1726, and eleven were sometimes towed to the land in one day.
We are informed that the first spermaceti whale known to the inhabit. ants, was found dead and ashore upon the southwestern part of the island: and here arose several conflicting claims to the right of property in this dead monster; the Indians claiming it by right of finding; the whites on the ground of their ownership of the island; and the officer of the crown seizing it by virtue of the well-known principle of the laws of England, giv. ing to the king certain property which is discovered to have no visible owner, and in discussing which, Mr. Justice Blackstone, if we remember right, specially designates a stranded whale. The matter was, however, at length
adjusted, and the white men who first found it were permitted to hold the property, the whale having been previously divested of his teeth.
To Christo her Hussey, a Nantucket whaleman, belongs the honor of capturing the first spermaceti whale, and his feat was performed during the vear 1712, so far as it can be ascertained. This man, while cruising near the shore for " right whales," the species which had been the principal kind captured by the Nantucket whalemen, was blown off from the shore, and failing in with a school of that species, he succeeded in capturing one, and tuwing him into port. This event gave a new impulse to the whale fishery upoa the ocean, for vessels of thirty tons were soon built for the purpose of extending this traffic. These vessels were fitted out for cruises of about six weeks, and carried a few hogsheads, capable of containing the blubber of only one whale, which after they had captured, they returned home, when the owners took the blubber and prepared the oil for market, despatching the ship upon another voyage. The boiling was done in try-houses, which were erected near the landing, and the outfits and apparatus were placed in warehouses, situated near the same place. The substitution of vessels for boats constituted a new epoch in the expeditions of these Nantucket whalemen, as the whales were expected to be diminished; and in 1715, the number of vessels engaged in the whaling business from this port was six, all of them sloops of from thirty to forty tons burden, and producing £1100, amounting in our currency to $4,888 88.
Such was the germ of the whale fishery in this country, and circumstances transpired which were calculated to extend its operations. Larger vessels were soon introduced as motive for the business increased, and the enlargement of their number of course required an additional number of men, so that the island could not furnish the force to man their ships. This de. ficiency was, however, supplied by seamen from Long Island, as well as various parts of Cape Cod. But the consumption of oil did not increase with the augmentation of the number of the ships and the quantity of oil which was obtained. Indeed the domestic sale was frequently dull, and the whale fishermen began to look to a foreign market. Boston, at this time, furnished the chief depot for the oil of the Nantucket whalemen, and it was customary for the merchants of that city to order large quantities of whale oil from Nantucket, and to export it to England in their own vessels, from which traffic they derived a considerable profit, the oil of the island having obtained a very high reputation in Europe. This fact aroused the people of Nantucket to their true interest, and they immediately adopted measures to export the products of the fishery themselves, and accordingly to reap the profits. But although the prospects of success appeared bright, they moved with great caution in this matter, knowing that the failure of their enterprise would be attended with disastrous consequences. Accord. ingly, about the year 1745, a small vessel was loaded and despatched to Europe with a cargo of oil. The expedition was successful, and their shipments to England and other foreign ports were increased. This new field of enterprise was attended with a double advantage, for while they secured large profits on these voyages, it was found that the articles in the foreign ports to which their ships were consigned, consisting of iron, hardware, hemp, and sail-cloth, were precisely of the kind which they wanted for the trade, and being purchased at a cheap rate, they were admirably adapted to their return cargoes.
But in the year 1755, the loss of several fine ships, with their crews, by
the perils of the sea, or by capture—for it is well known that we were then at war with France-threw a temporary blight over the traffic, although it continued to increase. The ships were enlarged in size from thirty to one hundred tons burden and more, as whales had become scarce upon their own ranging grounds near the shore, and larger vessels were required to advance further into the ocean. A number of the larger class of vessels was despatched to Davis' Straits and the Western Islands, being provided with complete outfits, and while a few made great voyages, others came home "clean," from the ignorance that the prevailed respecting the courses of the winds, the proper feeding-ground of the whales, and of all those other facts which could only be acquired by experience. Whaling continued to be the main occupation of the inhabitants of that island, while the attempts which were made to carry on this pursuit in other parts of the country, appear to have failed.
Another fact tended to diminish the profits of the whale fishery at that time. The English government, discovering that oil was far preferable to other light, being better adapted to common use, and less expensive, be. came anxious to increase that branch of commerce from her own ports, and in consequence, granted a large bounty to this species of industry. By that means it was much enlarged, and London soon became an important whaling port. The necessary consequence of this measure, was to cut off Nan. tucket from a considerable portion of its foreign market; yet the American whale trade was not sensibly diminished, as its consumption was enlarged in various parts of the world, and even the exportation to England contin. ued to be carried on. As new coasts were explored, the field of the whale fishery became enlarged, and the American whale fishermen adventured widely into the ocean for their favorite game. The places at which the whale fishery commenced, and the periods when it was begun, prior to our , revolution, we have in the subjoined table, which is believed to be ac. curate :
At Davis' Straits, in the year 1746.
Besides these places, whaling voyages were carried on to a considerable extent, although for a shorter period, upon the Grand Banks, Cape Verd Islands, numerous points of the West Indies, the Bay of Mexico, the Car. ribean sea, the coast of the Spanish Main, and various other parts of the sea. The amount of enterprise invested in the traffic at different periods, and the profits of the voyages at this early stage of the fishery, may perhaps be interesting at the present time, exhibiting as they do, the progress of the trade in this country. We therefore subjoin a table, showing the number of vessels in this country employed in the whale fishery, and the amount of oil produced, commencing in 1762, and running down a period of ten years.
• See History of Nantucket, by Obed Macy.
The number of American ships, and oil produced, for ten years.
No. of vessels. No.of barrels
125 15,439 1763,
119 19,140 1764, 72 11,983 1770,
125 14,331 1765, . 101 11,512 1771, · 115 12,754 1766, · 118 11,969
7,825 1767, . 108 · 16,561 It appears also, that the price of whale oil in England was in 1742, £18 13s. per ton.
£10 1743, • £14
1753, • £21 From the year 1770 to 1775, this branch of commerce had increased to an unexampled amount, and the hardy islanders of that coast constituting the whaling companies, were mechanics, who manufactured the cordage, the casks, the sails, the iron and wood work of the ships, and even built the ships themselves. According to Mr. Pitkin, Massachusetts alone, during that space of time, employed annually one hundred and eighty-three vessels of thirteen thousand eight hundred and twenty tons burden in the northern whale fishery, and one hundred and twenty-one vessels of fourteen thousand and twenty tons in the southern, which were navigated by four thousand and fifty-nine men; the produce of the fishery at that time amounting to £350,000, lawful money, or 1,160,000 dollars. At this time, a large por. tion of the spermaceti oil was sent to England in an unseparated state, the head matter being generally mingled with the body of the oil, commanding, as it did, the same price when in a mixed, as in a separate state.
A considerable portion of the oil procured from the right whale was shipped to Boston, or other parts of our American colonies, for inland consumption, or was exported to the West Indies. The manufacture of sperm candles, which was first commenced in Rhode Island, in 1750, was carried on to a consid. erable extent in New England and Philadelphia, and tended to furnish a motive for the fishermen to procure this species of matter. We here ap. pend a table, showing the amount of the American whale fishery from 1771 to 1775. State of the Whale Fshery in Massachusetts, from 1771 to 1775. Vesssels fitted Vessels fitted
Barrels Ports from which the lout annually Their ton-out annually 7'heir ton Seamen Barrels of of rohale equipments were made.
for the south
employ- spermace oil taken ern whale fishern rohale fish
ti oil taken annual
stable county, Swanzey,
10,200 2,025 26,000 4,000 1,000 420 2,250 2,250 2,000 1,040 7,200 1,400 120 28 200 100
156 900 300
26 240 700 260 1,800
14,020 4,059 39,390 8,650
A few years previous to the revolution, the average price in market for spermaceti oil was about £40, and for head matter £50. Common whale oil was seventy dollars per ton, and the bone was about half a dollar per pound. As a whale producing about one hundred barrels of oil would yield two thousand pounds of bone, and a whale producing fifty or sixty barrels of oil would ordinarily yield about ten pounds of bone to the barrel, it is obvious that the capture of a single whale must have been an important object, even so far as mere profit was concerned.
The prospect of a war with England tended to arouse the fears of the whale fishermen, as they believed that their ships, ranging over so wide a space, would be swept from the ocean. The “ Massachusetts Bay Restrain. ing Bill,” tending to restrict the commerce of New England, and to exclude their whaling ships from the Banks of Newfoundland, also fell upon this class with a heavy blow, but a special relaxation of the law was made in favor of Nantucket, on account of a petition from the island to that effect. The war of the revolution soon broke out, and although few direct captures were made, as most of the ships had opportunity to get safely into port, the consequence was to check the whale fishery, and the class of the popula. tion who had procured their livelihood in this perilous traffic, were reduced to the greatest distress.
But great inconveniences resulting from the fact that the commerce of the American whale fishery was cut off from the ocean, the people of Nan. tucket prayed for an exemption from the attacks of the enemy, and the peti. tion drawn up by Timothy Folger, the agent for the people of Nantucket in 1780, resulted in a partial prosecution of that commerce from this port, but without very profitable results. The whole traffic throughout the coun. try was in fact suspended, and the sailors employed in the whaling business were either driven from the ocean, or earned new laurels in the naval ser. vice of the country.
The clouds of the revolution were, however, soon cleared away, and peace again shone bright in the heavens, cheering and fructifying the commerce of the nation. Nantucket, the principal mart of the trade at that time, was found in an impoverished condition. The hundred and fifty ves. sels which it owned at the commencement of the war, were dwindled down to a few old hulks, and the grass grew green in the streets; but the char. acteristic energy which had inarked the enterprise of its sturdy settlers soon exhibited itself upon its old field, the ocean, and the sound of the broad-axe and the hammer was again heard in its dockyards, building and refitting new vessels for its favorite enterprise. In 1785, the business promised great profits. The articles required for the outfits were low, while the price of oil was high. This state of things continued only a short time, for in the latter part of the succeeding year, crude sperm oil sold for £24 per ton, and head matter scarcely commanded £45. Measures were soon adopted to petition for its protection, and a bounty was granted by the com. monwealth of Massachusetts, of five pounds for every ton of white sperma. ceti oil, and sixty shillings for every ton of brown spermaceti oil; for the purpose of encouraging the business, many persons in other parts of the country were induced to embark in the whale fishery, thus increasing the quantity in this country, and diminishing its value. But the consumption was not sufficiently large to make its procuration very profitable; and the encouragement to this commerce which had been given by England, und the consequent quantity carried by their own mariners into that