19th Anniversary

19th Anniversary 142 www.afamag.com |  www.incollect.com Fig. 7: Piece of twine, made by Benjamin Lawrence (1799–1879), 1820–1821. Natural fibers on card in ivory frame, 4 x 5 in. Nantucket Historical Association Collection; Gift of Alexander Starbuck (1914.15.1). Fig. 8: Susan Veeder (1816–1897), Cover of “Islands Seen by Ship Nauticon ” journal 1848– 1853). Ink and watercolor on paper; 10¼ x 8 in. Nantucket Historical Association Collection; Gift of the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association (Ms. 220 log 347). J. Fisher precisely captures the process of cutting the blubber off a slaughtered whale, while his Ship Spermo Trying With Boats (Fig. 6) shows the noisome and smoke-filled practice of boiling whale blubber to render it into storable oil. The scenes reflect the backbreaking and dangerous labor that gathered millions of gallons of oil to light and lubricate the industrial revolution. Extraordinary terrors sometimes augmented the more routine hazards of whaling life. On November 20, 1820, an enraged sperm whale, eighty-five-feet long and weighing about eighty tons, rammed the Nantucket ship Essex while the ship hunted whales near the equator in the remote Pacific. The ship promptly filled with water and rolled over, a total wreck. Fearing cannibals on the closest islands — twenty to thirty days’ sail away — Captain George Pollard Jr. and his crew of nineteen set course in small boats for South America, hoping to run three thousand miles against contrary winds before exhausting the limited food and water they could carry. Three months later, passing ships picked up just five emaciated survivors from the boats. Three other men were stranded on a remote island, and twelve men were dead — seven of them eaten in desperation by their starving shipmates. This story, as told in an 1821 book by First Mate Owen Chase, fired the imagination of young Herman Melville when he was a whaler in the early 1840s, and it inspired, in part, Captain Ahab’s quest for the malevolent white whale in Moby-Dick , published in 1851. This mammoth literary heritage notwithstanding, a short length of hand-twisted twine (Fig. 7) in the NHA’s collection, made by twenty-one-year-old Benjamin Lawrence while in one of the boats , is all that remains of the doomed Essex . Beginning in the 1820s, some enterprising women joined their sea-captain husbands on whaling voyages to the Pacific, often with their children. Among them was Susan Veeder, who sailed with her husband Charles and their young sons on the ship Nauticon between fall 1848 and spring 1853. The voyage was an eventful one, and Susan described and illustrated it in lively detail in a private journal (Fig. 8). Four months out from Nantucket, Susan gave birth to a daughter, Mary Frances, at Talcahuano, Chile. All was well with the family until early 1850, when the child was accidentally poisoned by medicine while the ship lay at Tahiti. Whaling provided economic opportunities for many islanders, including African Americans and Native Americans. Sampson Dyer (1773–1843), a man of mixed African and Wampanoag heritage, and his wife settled in