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.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Whaling and the Revolution

Harpoon Tips
Clifford Ashley, in his indispensable book The Yankee Whaler, describes the effect the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) had on the whaling fleets of Nantucket and New Bedford.

Prior to the start of the war, Britain had no sperm whalers. This changed after the outbreak, when captured American vessels were sent to sea under the British flag. (p. xi)
In 1782 England's Greenland fleet consisted of thirty-eight ships; in 1784, eighty-nine; in 1785 there were one hundred and forty; and in 1790 over two hundred. [...] practically every whaleship in the Nantucket fleet—one hundred and thirty-four out of one hundred and fifty—was captured by the British early in the Revolutionary War, and that every whaleman captured was given the privilege of deciding whether he would continue whaling under the British flag or go to prison. (p.25)
An easy choice, that.
When the Revolutionary War began, New Bedford's fleet numbered between forty and fifty  whalers. During the war, they did not attempt to fish [...] American privateersmen brought many prizes into the harbor during the earlier stages of the war. New Bedford was the only port north of the Chesapeake not in the hands of the British, and there was a rich accumulation of colonial stores of one sort and another.
In September, 1778, Sir Henry Clinton attacked New Bedford by sea, landing 4,500 troops south of the town. Thirty-four of the town's fleet of fifty whalers were burned.

After the war, not all captured whalemen returned to the former colonies. In 1788, the British ship Amelia, crewed by Nantucketers, was the first whaleship to enter the Pacific. In 1791, the Beaver of Nantucket was the first American whaler to round the Horn.

The Rebecca of New Bedford was the first American whaler to "fill ship" in the Pacific. It sailed in 1791 and arrived home February 23, 1793. (p. 38) According to History of Bristol County, Massachusetts (D. Hamilton Hurd, 1883), the Rebecca was the first ship built in New Bedford (!?!), launched in 1785. It was considered "immensely large" at the time. Her master builder was George Claghorn, who afterwards built the Constitution, launched in 1797.

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