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Nantucket's History of Whaling

Kennedy Ryan | 1/15/2021

Did you know that Nantucket was the inspiration for the novel Moby Dick? According to the Nantucket Historical Association, during the 1700’s to mid 1830’s, Nantucket was the Whaling Capital of the World.

The first settlers on Nantucket began their community by farming and fishing. After many whales washed ashore, the settlers realized how valuable these whales were for their oil. This led to the organization of deep-sea expeditions that would continue for nearly a century.

Whaling was an extremely dangerous living. After sailing far out to sea and spotting a whale, sailors would climb aboard small boats. Whalers would then harpoon these massive, strong creatures and tow them back to the main ship. This process resulted in many tragedies.

While Herman Melville, the author of Moby Dick, had never visited Nantucket, he was inspired by the story of the Essex ship’s final tragic journey at sea. After almost a year at sea, the Essex was struck by a large sperm whale. When the ship sank, the crew members attempted to travel to safety in whale boats. Many lives were lost, and the story of their journey continues to be an important part of whaling history.

You can learn more about Nantucket’s rich whaling history by visiting the Nantucket Whaling Museum. The museum features a variety of exhibits and events for visitors to enjoy. Be sure to check their website for more information on hours and admission.