The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

American Whalefleet - 1839

Here are some statistics that may be of interest, taken from the enlightening compendium The Yankee Whaler, by New Bedford native Clifford W. Ashley (author of The Ashley Book of Knots). This book seems to have been dropped by the publisher, Dover, but used copies can be found on Amazon. If you're interested in the history, practice, and nitty-gritty details of whaling, whaleships, and whalemen, it's a great resource.

Ashley took the following table from Charles Melville(!) Scammon. "It shows the size and distribution of the American fleet in the year 1839, when more ports were engaged in whaling than at any other time."

Wikipedia has articles to clarify the terms bark, brig, and schooner. (The distinction between "ship" and the others is unknown to me.) I sorted the table by tonnage, the total cargo carrying capacity of a city's fleet.

It's not surprising to see New Bedford, Nantucket, and Fair Haven at the head of the list. Ashley reports that by 1823 New Bedford's fleet equaled Nantucket's, both in numbers and tonnage. Sixteen years later, New Bedford's fleet was more than twice that of Nantucket in both measures.

Poughkeepsie and Hudson, lying 80 and 150 miles up-river from New York harbor, are a surprise. Of course, those are the cities of ownership, not necessarily the home port.

I was also surprised to see such major ports as New York, Portland, Portsmouth, and last-place Boston so far down the list; and to see New Jersey and Deleware there at all.

As of 1839, these states with "ocean access" were members of "the union," but are missing from this list: Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, Virginia, North Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. (Some of these states may have dabbled in whaling before or after 1839—Ashley writes that in the years after the War of 1812, i.e. after February 1815, Philadelphia sent out two whaling voyages.) Was that due to lack of capital, lack of a distribution system for product, greater demand for product in New England, or inability to compete against established whaling centers for talented shipwrights, officers, and crew?

City where ownedStateShips and
Brigs and
New BedfordMA169856118
New LondonCT30911447
Sag HarborNY31 10605
SalemMA14 4265
HudsonNY8 2902
EdgartownMA8 2659
FalmouthMA8 2490
PoughkeepsieNY6 2043
Fall RiverMA431604
WilmingtonDE5 1578
LynnMA4 1269
Holmes' Hole (Vineyard Haven)MA311180
NewburyportMA3 1099
ProvidenceRI3 1086
BridgeportCT3 913
PlymouthMA3 910
DartmouthMA3 874
New YorkNY3 710
Coldspring HarborNY2 629
DorchesterMA2 581
PortlandME1 388
WiscassetME1 380
NewarkNJ1 366
PortsmouthNH1 348
New SuffolkNY1 274
JamesportNY1 236
ProvincetownMA 1172
SomersetMA 1137
BostonMA 1125

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting. I wonder what criteria they used to determine where a vessel was "owned"?