NANTUCKET

 

  MOBY DICK IS HERMAN MELVILLE'S CLASSIC NOVEL ABOUT CAPTAIN AHAB CHASING A GREAT WHITE WHALE

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Street in Nantucket in 1870

 

Nantucket in 1870

 

 

 

Nantucket is an island about 30 miles (50 km) by ferry south from Cape Cod, in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. Together with the small islands of Tuckernuck and Muskeget, it constitutes the Town of Nantucket, and the conterminous Nantucket County.

In his 1835 history of Nantucket Island, Obed Macy wrote that in the early pre-1672 colony, a whale of the kind called "scragg" entered the harbor and was pursued and killed by the settlers. This event started the Nantucket whaling industry. A. B. Van Deinse points out that the "scrag whale", described by P. Dudley in 1725 as one of the species hunted by early New England whalers, was almost certainly the gray whale, which has flourished on the west coast of North America in modern times with protection from whaling. Nantucket's dependence on trade with England, derived from its whaling and supporting industries, influenced its leading citizens to remain neutral during the American Revolutionary War, favoring neither the British nor those supporting revolution.

Herman Melville commented on Nantucket's whaling dominance in Moby-Dick, Chapter 14: "Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer's. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires". The Moby-Dick characters Captain Ahab and Starbuck are both from Nantucket. The tragedy that inspired Melville to write his famous novel Moby-Dick was the Final Voyage of the Essex, allied to the exploits of Mocha Dick.

 

 

 

 

By 1850, whaling was in decline, as Nantucket's whaling industry had been surpassed by that of New Bedford. The island suffered great economic hardships, worsened by the "Great Fire" of July 13, 1846, that, fueled by whale oil and lumber, devastated the main town, burning some 40 acres (16 hectares). The fire left hundreds homeless and poverty-stricken, and many people left the island. Another contributor to the decline was the silting up of the harbor, which prevented large whaling ships from entering and leaving the port, unlike New Bedford, which still owned a deep water port. In addition, the development of railroads made mainland whaling ports, such as New Bedford, more attractive because of the ease of transshipment of whale oil onto trains, an advantage unavailable to an island. The American Civil War dealt the death blow to the island's whaling industry, as virtually all of the remaining whaling vessels were destroyed by Confederate commerce raiders.

As a result of this depopulation, the island was left under-developed and isolated until the mid-20th century. The isolation kept many of the pre-Civil War buildings intact and, by the 1950s, enterprising developers began buying up large sections of the island and restoring them to create an upmarket destination for wealthy people in the Northeastern United States.

 

 

 

FOUNDERS

In October 1641, William, Earl of Stirling, deeded the island to Thomas Mayhew of Watertown, Massachusetts Bay. In 1659 Mayhew sold an interest in the island to nine other purchasers, reserving 1/10th of an interest for himself, "for the sum of thirty pounds ... and also two beaver hats, one for myself, and one for my wife."

Each of the ten original owners was allowed to invite one partner. There is some confusion about the identity of the first twenty owners, partly because William Pile did not choose a partner, and sold his interest to Richard Swain, which was subsequently divided between John Bishop and the children of George Bunker.

Anxious to add to their number and to induce tradesmen to come to the island, the total number of shares were increased to twenty-seven. The original purchasers needed the assistance of tradesmen who were skilled in the arts of weaving, milling, building and other pursuits and selected men who were given half a share provided that they lived on Nantucket and carried on their trade for at least three years.

By 1667, twenty-seven shares had been divided among 31 owners.

 

 

 

 

Nantucket's settlement by the English did not begin in earnest until 1659, when Thomas Mayhew sold his interest to a group of investors, led by Tristram Coffin. The "nine original purchasers" were Tristram Coffin, Peter Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swain, Thomas Barnard, Stephen Greenleaf, John Swain and William Pike. These men are considered the founding fathers of Nantucket, and many islanders are related to these families. Seamen and tradesmen began to populate Nantucket, such as Richard Gardner (arrived 1667) and Capt. John Gardner (arrived 1672), sons of Thomas Gardner.

Before 1795 the town on the island was called Sherburne. The original settlement was near Capaum Pond. At that time the pond was a small harbor, whose entrance silted up, forcing the settlers to dismantle their houses, and move them northeast by two miles to the present location.

 

 

Captain Ahab, played by Gregory Peck in 1956

 

Gregory Peck gives an outstanding performance as Captain Ahab, the obsessed master of the Pequod, in the 1956 movie: Moby Dick.

 

 

A BIT OF HISTORY

 

Moby Dick is the story of a great white sperm whale that fought back at whalers who tried to harpoon him. The idea came to Herman Melville after he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being harpooned in 1838.

 

Moby Dick has inspired a great many adaptations, the same basic story finding its way into the making of four films and two television adaptations.

 

In addition there are many comics and illustrated volumes, adapted from the original, one of which is the emerging graphic novel version of a large humpback whale called Kulo Luna.

 

Kulo Luna is not as big as the whales depicted in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but she has a diamond encrusted heart of gold, only attacking whaling ships that present a danger to herself or her friends.

 

 

 

 

Herman Melville was the author of what we'd now consider an illegal activity, the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat.

 

 

 

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