Whaling Essay, Research Paper
?Few interests have exerted a more marked influence upon the history of the United States than that of
fisheries? (Starbuck, 1). This simple statement was written in an official report to Congress in 1876. The impact that
whaling made in the early years of the United States was just this important. Whaling was an integral part of the
development of the young nation. Whaling was king in New England, and New England was king of whaling. From
cities such as Nantucket, Cape Cod, Long Island, and New Bedford, the United States dominated the whaling industry.
It generated other industry and was often a major point of conflict between England and America. American industry
took a huge leap forward with the refining of the industry into its dominating state.
The whalers themselves deserve a lot of credit for refining the techniques used and being the heroes that went
further and worked harder. ?The pioneers of the sea, whalemen were the advanced guard, the forlorn hope of
civilization? (Starbuck, 1). Those who lived and worked in the American ports were especially hardworking. The
success of Nantucket was a direct result of their tireless pursuit of being top of the field.
The Colonies and Early American Whaling
?When Captain John Smith sailed for America in 1614, he carried a crown permit to fish for whales. The
Charter of Massachusetts Bay Colony granted the privilege of taking ?all fishes/royal, fishes, whales, balan, sturgeons
and other fish.?? (Ashley, 28). Whaling was one of the original intentions in the settlement of Massachusetts, as
guaranteed in the charter. They were to be remote ports of England from which vessels could be based. ?The
American whale fishery is contemporary with the settlement of the New York and New England colonies? (Starbuck,
4). There were acts that were passed in Massachusetts that encouraged the fisheries and stressed their importance as
early as 1639. However important whaling seemed to have been considered by those in the early settlements, it was
not an instant success as a business. Not until around 1690 did things start to take off. Soon after the turn of the
century, the Island of Nantucket and the town of Sherburne advanced rapidly to being the largest of the whaling ports.
Those on Nantucket were revered for their great skill in whaling. They had the most efficient ways to catch and process
whales. They would later be the most sought after for positions in the fleets of both the United States and England.
The Influence of Exploration
?In the frozen seas of the north and south, their keels plowed to the extreme limit of navigation, and between
the tropics they pursued their prey through regions never before traversed by the vessels of a civilized community?
(Starbuck, 2). As the population of whales that were in the immediate vicinity of shore began to dwindle, the search for
new whaling grounds became important. ?Pursuing their avocation whenever a chance presented, the American flag
was first unfurled in an English port from the deck of one of the American whalemen, and the ports of the western coast
of South America first beheld the stars and stripes shown as the standard of another? (Starbuck, 2). The search for
new and better whaling waters was a driving force in the further exploration of the Atlantic and ultimately the Pacific. It
revitalized the desire to search beyond the known areas that had been somewhat lost since the voyages of the Spanish.
Industry in America
The New Englanders were quick to see the full potential of whaling. An early trading location was London,
England. ?On February 3, 1783, the whaleship Bedford, out of Nantucket, arrived in London with a cargo of sperm
oil. She was flying the rebel colors; it was the first time the Stars and Stripes had been seen in England? (Ellis, 146).
The British nearly destroyed the American industry of whaling by setting high tariffs, hoping that they could be the leader
in the industry. During the especially bleak period between 1783 and 1786, many of those who were experienced
whalers in Nantucket were drawn to the English fleets to become ship captains and officers. Those who stayed were
rewarded. In France William Rotch managed to open a new market to replace the English one that now had the tariffs.
??England fears no rivals in the whale-fishery but America; or rather, it is the whale-fishery of America she is
endeavoring to possess… France, by her ports and markets, holds the balance between the two countries?, Thomas
Jefferson? (Stackpole, 133).
In the beginning, the whales that were captured were brought back and taken ashore, where the blubber was
?saved?. Try-works were set up on the shore, and the blubber, after being cut into pieces, was subject to the process
of ?trying out?. When a whale was captured at sea, it was cut into square pieces and stowed in casks below the deck
of the ship. It was brought back packed in wet seaweed. ?The wet seaweed kept the barrels moist, preventing the
staves from drying out and shrinking– and leaking their precious contents? (Whipple, 62). Refineries were set up on the
shore for efficient processing of the whale. Other offshoot industry included the making of light, strong rope. The most
famous of the rope making companies was the New Bedford Cordage Company. In a long narrow shed called the
ropewalk, 51 hemp yarns (each of which could withstand 112 pounds) were twisted together to make a line two inches
in circumference. The Whale itself represented a variety of products. The economic situation was fairly clear. The
whale oil was the source of lighting for millions of people. It was sold in such places as France, Holland, Bremen,
Copenhagen, Riga, and Kronstadt. Also it was involved in the curing of leather and the carding of wool, making it a
large part of the shoe and clothing industries. Thousands of workers were employed in the production of the oil. Thus,
when there was in increase in the sale of oil, there was also an increase in jobs for American workers. ?The astute
Jefferson pointed out that ?the interests of the adventurers in the whale-fishery… politically considered, may be of more
importance to the State than a single laborer or manufacturer, but to make the estimate with the accuracy it merits, we
should multiply their numbers in each side into their individual importance and see which predominates?? (Stackpole,
The Overall Effect on America
The whaling industry was originally part of the original intention for the colonization of the United States.
Once realized what potential it held, it caught on as the predominant industry along much of the Massachusetts coastline
and the islands. Whaling ports such as Nantucket, Cape Cod, Long Island, and New Bedford flourished. They quickly
became the leaders of the industry, especially those from the island of Nantucket. The main trading partner England
levied a high duty on oil and forced the United States to expand its markets to other locations worldwide. At home, in
America, whaling was responsible for the jobs in the various branches of the production industry. Whether it was for
the oil itself or the many other uses, it was a great boost for the economy of early America. Often, the industry
characterized the relationship between the United States and Great Britain after the Revolutionary War and before the
War of 1812. Through the use of the products, millions of people were affected either by the lighting in the period or by
the other products that it helped make.
The Demise of American Fisheries
By the end of the nineteenth century, most of the population of right whales and bowhead whales had been
depleted. Sperm Whales were still hunted but were difficult to find. Other oils were being used more and more often as
lubricants and for lighting. The Industrial Revolution, and particularly the light bulb, were the next big cause for the
slowing of the industry. The age of petroleum was just one more nail in the coffin of the dying industry.
It was very important that the United States controlled the whaling industry, not only for the whaling itself, but
for all of the economic benefits that came along with it. It gave America a step up in industry at a time when the country
was young and it continued to be helpful right up to the time that it propelled the United States into the industrial
revolution before the rest of the world. It is responsible for the heightened level of all industry in this country because it
gave us that boost just at the right time. we would not be in this leading role in the world if it had not been for the lasting
effects of the great American whale-fisheries.
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