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Historic Nantucket

Fall 2011 Volume 61, No. 3

A Publication of the Nantucket Historical Association






NaNtucket Whalecraft MAKERS


Board of Trustees

Historic Nantucket A Publication of the Nantucket Historical Association

Fall 2011


Vol. 61, No. 3

Janet L. Sherlund, PRESIDENT Kenneth L. Beaugrand, vICE PRESIDENT Jason A. Tilroe, VICE PRESIDENT Thomas J. Anathan, TREASURER


William R. Congdon, CLERK

Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and the NHA’s Whaling Logs: Some Comparisons

Josette Blackmore William J. Boardman


Constance Cigarran W. Michael Cozort Franci N. Crane Denis H. Gazaille


Nancy A. Geschke

Naming the Pacific: Howland Island, New Nantucket, Guano, Amelia Earhart, and the Minerva Smyth

Whitney A. Gifford Georgia Gosnell, TRUSTEE EMERITA Susan Zises Green Kathryn L. Ketelsen FRIENDS OF THE NHA REPRESENTATIVE

STUART M . FRANK , P h . D .

William E. Little Jr. Hampton S. Lynch Jr. Mary D. Malavase Sarah B. Newton


Christopher C. Quick

Some Remarks About Nantucket Whalecraft Makers:

Laura C. Reynolds

A Collector’s Chronicle

Anne S. Obrecht



L. Dennis Shapiro Nancy M. Soderberg EX OFFICIO


Editorial Committee


Richard L. Duncan Amy Jenness

From the Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator BENJAMIN SIMONS

Cecil Barron Jensen Robert F. Mooney Elizabeth Oldham


NHA Annual Fund


NHA News Notes

Nathaniel Philbrick Bette M. Spriggs James Sulzer Benjamin Simons EDITOR

ON THE COVER: Title page of Log 73: Ship Edward Cary, 1854–58.

Elizabeth Oldham COPY EDITOR

Eileen Powers/Javatime Design

Historic Nantucket welcomes articles on any aspect of Nantucket history. Original research; firsthand accounts; reminiscences of island experiences; historic logs, letters, and photographs are examples of materials of interest to our readers.


©2011 by the Nantucket Historical Association

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Historic Nantucket (ISSN 0439-2248) is published by the Nantucket Historical Association, 15 Broad Street, Nantucket, Massachusetts. Periodical postage paid at Nantucket, MA, and additional entry offices. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Historic Nantucket, P.O. Box 1016, Nantucket, MA 02554 –1016; (508) 228–1894; fax: (508) 228–5618, For information log on to

Printed in the USA on recycled paper, using vegetable-based inks.


Whaling: Fact and Fiction Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand!


Friends, hold my arms! For in the mere act of penning my thoughts of this Leviathan, they weary me, and make me faint. . . . Moby-Dick, Chapter 104, “The Fossil Whale”



that Moby-Dick, the greatest nineteenthcentury American work of fiction, appeared in 1851, at the height of the whaling industry it memorialized, and fell stillborn from the press. Melville created a treasury of unsurpassed poetic prose inspired by the global industry with Nantucket at its center, and, in doing so, left some of the finest technical descriptions of whaling known. As a veteran of several whaling voyages, he intuitively sensed that the whaler’s world, and indeed the whole mythos of America and the sea, lived on the dividing line between fiction and reality. The world of whaling was, in the words of Nat Philbrick in Ric Burns’s film Nantucket, “an imaginary world that is real.” This issue of Historic Nantucket focuses on whaling fact and fiction, led off by a delightful piece by Les

Ottinger, our longtime volunteer reader and recorder of the whaling logs, juxtaposing passages from the whaling fiction of Moby-Dick with parallel passages from the historical logs and journals of Nantucket whaleships in the NHA collections. Les places Melville’s soaring, ecstatic prose over against the daily poetry of the whaleman’s logbook. The logbooks prove to have their own deep eloquence, recording the inadvertent poetry of life on the world’s waters with understatement and a rich vein of whimsy, humor, and even mischievousness. Likewise, in the midst of Melville’s poetry, the keenest edges of the whaler’s life, and of life itself, cut through. This is followed by Dr. Stuart Frank’s article, “Naming the Pacific,” in which we are reminded, as Melville wrote, that Nantucketers “explored seas and archipelagoes which had no chart,

where no Cook or Vancouver had ever sailed.” (Chapter 24, “The Advocate”) And last, Robert Hellman, a renowned collector of whaling tools and a longtime NHA interpreter, provides us with a detailed study of the blacksmiths of Nantucket—not “begrimed, blistered” as Melville would have it, but for decade after decade steadily supplying to whaling vessels leaving our shores the harpoons, lances, spades, and other tools of the hunt. On Nantucket, we live amid the traces and hauntings of the whalers’ legacy. At the NHA, we are devoted to bringing this legacy to life, whenever possible, with the imaginative poignancy of fiction, using the collective records of living Nantucketers.


Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator

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h erm a n m elv i lle’s

Moby-Dick a n d t he n ha’s W ha ling logs: Some CompariSonS BY LESLIE W. OTTINGER, M.D.

Quotations are from the norton Critical edition of Moby-Dick, edited by hershel Parker and harrison hayford, W. W. norton & Company, inc., 2002, first published in The Writings of Herman Melville, by northwestern University Press and the newberry library, 1988. logs are in the nha’s manuscript Collection 220. this article is excerpted from a more extensive version compiled by dr. ottinger.

Whale and Whaleboat Ch. 133: “The Chase—First Day” Now, by reason of this timely spinning round the boat upon its axis, its bow, by anticipation, was made to face the whale’s head while yet under water. But as if perceiving this stratagem, Moby Dick . . . in the manner of a biting shark, slowly and feelingly taking its bows full within his mouth . . . now shook the slight cedar as a mildly cruel cat her mouse.

Log 132 Ship Mary, 1843–45, Charles Pitman Jr., master and keeper: Tuesday the 17—First part light airs . . . hands employed in boiling . . . at daylight saw whales going to leeward . . . lowered [and] struck one large whale and one small whale the large whale eat our boat up and got clear.

Log 21, Brewster, June 15, 1864 4 | Historic Nantucket

Log 132, Mary, September 17, 1844

The Owners Ch. 109: “Ahab and Starbuck in the Cabin” . . . “Starbuck! I’ll not have the Burtons hoisted.” [Burtons: a small tackle used to tighten the shrouds—Ed.] “What will the owners say, sir?” “Let the owners stand on Nantucket beach and outyell the Typhoons. What cares Ahab? Owners, owners? Thou art always prating to me, Starbuck, about those miserly owners, as if the owners were my conscience. But look ye, the only real owner of anything is its commander; and hark ye, my conscience is in the ship’s keel.—On deck!”

now enable you to account for those repeated whaling disasters . . . of this man or that man being taken out of the boat by the line, and lost. For, when the line is darting out, to be seated then in the boat, is like being seated in the midst of the manifold whizzings of a steam-engine in full play, when every flying beam, and shaft, and wheel, is grazing you. Log 48 Ship Christopher Mitchell, 1841–45, William Keene, master; Seth Delano, William Swain, M.S. Barnard, keepers: 1/27/1843—At 6 AM saw a shoal of sperm Whales . . . lowered all of the boats for them . . . took 2 Whales Mr. William Swain the Chief Mate was taken out of the boat by the line and drowned in about half an hour . . . we then succeeded in taking him in to the boat and took him on board of the ship and lade him out.

Log 368 Ship Susan, 1841–46, Reuben Russell, master and keeper: 12/21/1845—At 6 PM spoke the ship Montano Russell 4 months out. . . . Went on board & got letters from the owners requesting me to Stay out 5 years . . . all moon shine . . . we are four years now & everything worn out. Intend to leave soon.

The Whizzing Line Ch. 60: “The Line” The whale line is only two-thirds of an inch in thickness. At first sight, you would not think it so strong as it really is . . . . Before lowering the boat for the chase, the upper end of the line is taken aft from the tub . . . [to] the extreme pointed prow of the boat, where a wooden pin or skewer the size of a common quill, prevents it from slipping out. . . . Perhaps a very little thought will

The Life-Buoy, or Bucket Ch. 126: “The Life-Buoy” But the bodings of the crew were destined to receive a most plausible confirmation in the fate of one of their number that morning. At sun-rise this man went from his hammock to his mast-head at the fore . . . he had not been long at his perch, when a cry was heard—a cry and a rushing—and looking up, they saw a falling phantom in the air; and looking down, a little tossed heap of white bubbles in the blue of the sea. The life-buoy—a long slender cask [Sometimes called a bucket.—Ed.] was dropped from the stern . . . but no hand rose to seize it, and the sun having long beat upon this cask it had shrunken . . . and the studded iron-bound cask followed the sailor to the bottom, as if to yield him his pillow, though in sooth but a hard one.

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herman melville’s Moby Dick

Log 73 Ship Edward Cary, 1854–58, Perry Winslow, master; Joseph E. Ray, boatsteerer/journal keeper: 4/12/1855. At 9 AM the cry of man overboard Resounded throughout the Ship . . . the wind blowing heavy the boats was lashed up and the oars on deck. Being in my berth at the time and hearing the noise went on deck just as the Starboard Boat was going down. I jumped into her with the mate and a few others, and after pulling for some time oars succeeded in reaching him as he was about to give up. . . . He had a Bucket under him which fortunately happened to go over at the same time.


Above: Log 375, Harvest, October 21, 1846 Right: Log 64, Constitution, January 6, 1836

Ch. 86 “The Tail” It is a little significant, that while one sperm whale only fights another sperm whale with his head and jaw, nevertheless, in his conflicts with man, he chiefly and contemptuously uses his tail. In striking at a boat, he swiftly curves away his flukes from it, and the blow is only inflicted by the recoil. If it be made in unobstructed air, especially if it descend to its mark, the stroke is then simply irresistible. No ribs of man or boat can withstand it. Log 284 Ship Brewster, 1857–60, Crary B. Waite, master; Joseph S. Gelett, keeper: Tuesday October 19th 1858—This day commences with Moderate winds and pleasant weather at 3 ½ PM Saw Sperm Whales . . . lowered and the waist Boat struck and filled with water . . . the Larboard Boat Struck and while lancing the Whale struck the Boat with his flukes Cut her in two pieces Killed a man—Joseph Ventera . . . a Native of Flores. Got the Boat and Whale along side at dark.

Gooney Birds Ch. 42: “The Whiteness of the Whale” What the white whale was to Ahab, has been hinted; what, at times, he was to me, as yet remains unsaid. . . . Bethink thee of the albatross: whence come those clouds of spiritual wonderment and pale dread, in which that white phantom sails in all imaginations? Not Coleridge first threw that spell; but God’s great, unflattering laureate, Nature.* *Melville’s Note: I remember the first albatross I ever saw. It was during a prolonged gale, in waters hard upon the Antarctic seas. From my forenoon watch below, I ascended to the overclouded deck; and there, dashed upon the main hatches I saw a regal, feathery thing of unspotted whiteness, and with a hooked Roman bill sublime . . . and turning, asked a sailor what bird was this. A goney he replied. Log 367 Ship Three Brothers, 1851–54, Joseph S. Adams, master; Tobias Tyler, Charles Coffin, keepers: 1/10/1854. Caught a Gooney and put a label around . . . marked Ship Three Brothers Full Bound Home and let it fly to the four corners and we hope it will bring us to Nantucket. Log 147 Ship Mary Mitchell 1835–38, Samuel Joy, master and keeper:

Log 106, Harvest, October 7, 1850

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10/20/1835 Set whale watches again . . . caught a porpoise and a goney and put a talley on him.

Small Pox Ch. 71: “The Jeroboam’s Story” The Pequod’s signal was at last responded to by the stranger’s setting her own; which proved the ship to be the Jeroboam of Nantucket. Squaring her yards, she bore down, ranged abeam under the Pequod’s lee, and lowered a boat; it soon drew nigh; but, as the side-ladder was being rigged by Starbuck’s order to accommodate the visiting captain, the stranger in question waved his hand from the boat’s stern in token of that proceeding being entirely unnecessary. It turned out that the Jeroboam had a malignant epidemic on board, and that Mayhew, her captain, was fearful of infecting the Pequod’s company. For, though himself and the boat’s crew remained untainted, and though his ship was half a rifle-shot off, and an incorruptible sea and air roiling and flowing between, yet conscientiously adhering to the timid quarantine of the land, he peremptorily refused to come into direct contact with the Pequod.

Log 238 Ship Three Brothers, 1846–51, Joseph Mitchell II, master and keeper: 1/17/1848, Paita, Peru—Cash paid Consul . . . for vaxinating the Ships Company 30$. I was particularly advised to have the Ship’s Company Vaxinated for the Small Pox was raging up & down the Coast. . . . Several Ships had got it on board & had to go in & lay some time. . . . So by the advice of the Consul & others I had it done for the good of all Concerned . . . whether the owners will pay me or not I don’t know.

Illustrations from various logs including jolly swordfish from Log 106, Harvest, November 25, 1851

Howling Seals Ch. 126: “The Life-Buoy” At last, when the ship drew near to the outskirts, as it were, of the Equatorial fishing-ground, and in the deep darkness that goes before the dawn, was sailing by a cluster of rocky islets; the watch . . . was started by a cry so plaintively wild and unearthly—like half articulated wailings of the ghosts of all Herod’s murdered Innocents. . . . The Christian or civilized part of the crew said it was mermaids, and shuddered; the pagan harpooners remained unappalled. Yet the gray Manxman—oldest mariner of all—declared that the wild thrilling sounds that were heard were the voices of newly drowned men in the sea. Below in his hammock, Ahab did not hear of this till grey dawn, when he came to the deck; it was then recounted to him by Flask, not unaccompanied with hinted dark meanings. He hollowly laughed, and then explained the wonder. Those rocky islands the ship had passed were the resort of great numbers of seals, and some young seals that had lost their dams, or some dams that had lost their cubs, must have risen nigh the ship and kept company with her, crying and wailing with their human sort of wail. Log 136 Ship Lexington, 1853–56, Peter C. Brock,master; Eliza Brock, master’s wife, journal keeper:

Gravestone in Log 55, Coronet, December 5, 1838

6/1/1855. Spoke ship Eliza Adams, Hawse, of New Bedford, seven months out. Two whales. They reported loss of ship Edgar of Fall River on Jonas Island. Went on shore Sunday night lost in the fog. All hands saved. Ship high up on the beach. Why they did not hear the howl of the seals in time to keep off shore is quite a matter of wonder to all; they are distinctly heard one mile or more. They howl and bark like a dog.

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Log 135, Lima, December 6, 1827


She Blows!

Ch. 57: “Of Whales in Paint; in Teeth; in Wood; in sheet Iron; in Stone; in Mountains; in Stars”

Ch. 47: “The Mat-Maker”

Throughout the Pacific, and also in Nantucket, and New Bedford, and Sag Harbor, you will come across lively sketches of whales and whaling-scenes, graven by the fishermen themselves on Sperm Whale-teeth, or ladies’ busks wrought out of the Right Whale-bone, and other like skrimshander articles, as the whalemen call the numerous little ingenious contrivances they elaborately carve out of the rough material, in their hour of ocean leisure. Some of then have little boxes of dentistical-looking implements specially intended for the skrimshandering business. But, in general, they toil with their jack-knives alone; and, with that almost omnipotent tool of the sailor, they will turn you out anything you please, in the way of a mariner’s fancy.

Log 73 Ship Edward Cary, 1854–58, Perry Winslow, master Perry Winslow; Joseph E. Ray, boatsteerer, keeper: 4/30/1857. Thursday April 30—Commences with strong gales from ESE . . . Ship under Storm Sails. . . Emp Scrimshoning. So Ends. Wore ship. [Put the ship on another tack by turning its stern into the wind.—Ed.]

Thus we were weaving and weaving away when I started at a sound so strange, long drawn, and musically wild and unearthly, that the ball of free will dropped from my hand, and I stood gazing up at the clouds whence that voice dropped like a wing. High aloft on the cross-trees was that mad Gay-Header, Tashtego. His body was reaching eagerly forward, his hand stretched out like a wand, and at brief sudden intervals he continued his cries. To be sure the same sound was that very moment perhaps being heard all over the seas, from hundreds of whalemen’s look-outs perched as high in the air; but from few of those lungs could that accustomed old cry have derived such a marvelous cadence as from Tashtego the Indian’s. As he stood hovering over you half suspended in air, so wildly and eagerly peering towards the horizon, you would have thought him some prophet or seer beholding the shadows of Fate, and by those wild cries announcing their coming. “There she blows! there! there! there! she blows! she blows!” “Where-away?” “On the lee-beam, about two miles off! a school of them!” Instantly all was commotion.

Log 132 Ship Mary, 1843–45, Charles Pitman Jr., master and keeper: 1/11/1844—First part of these 24 hours calm . . . wee in company with the Roscoe . . . employed in bending old sail and other usefull jobs. . . . Middle part light airs from the East . . . wee steering to the Westward . . . with anxious eyes and panting to hear that joyfull Sound of there she blows.

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Azorean Recruits Ch. 27: “Knights and Squires” As for the residue of the Pequod’s company, be it said, that at the present day not one in two of the many thousand men before the mast employed in the American whale fishery, are Americans born, though pretty nearly all the officers are. . . . No small number of these whaling seamen belong to the Azores, where the outward bound Nantucket whalers frequently touch to augment their crews from the hardy peasants of those rocky shores. Log 238 Ship Three Brothers, 1846–51, Joseph Mitchell II, master and keeper: 8/4/1846— Flores, Azores The 4th First part employed in getting off recruits. . . . We shipped or took 6 men to go the voyage with us. Their fathers & mothers gave their Consent for them to go. . . . I mentioned men but they were only 16 years old.

Night Whaling Ch. 51: “The Spirit-Spout” It was while gliding through these latter waters that one serene and moonlight night, when all the waves rolled by like scrolls of silver; and, by their soft, suffusing seethings, made what seemed a silvery silence, not a solitude; on such a silent night a silvery jet was seen far in advance of the white bubbles at the bow. Lit up by the moon, it looked celestial; seemed some plumed and glittering god uprising from the sea. . . . And yet, though herds of whales were seen by night, not one whaleman in a hundred would venture lowering for them. . . . When, after all this silence . . . every reclining mariner started to his feet as if some winged spirit had lighted in the rigging, and hailed the mortal crew. “There she blows!” Had the trump of judgment blown, they could not have quivered more, yet still they felt no terror; rather pleasure. For though it was a most unwonted hour, yet so impressive was the cry, and so deliriously exciting, that almost every soul on board instinctively desired a lowering. [Whale sightings are regularly recorded in the logs. When there is no lowering of the boats, it is frequently because of approaching darkness, but night whaling was not always avoided.—Ed.] Log 331 Ship Maria, 1832–36, Alexander Macy, master; Charles Murphey, keeper :

6/14/1833—Fine weather . . . at 1 PM saw a large whale, lowered and gave chase. . . . At 3 PM the Hector Discovered us and bore up for us . . . at sunset succeeded in striking the whale. . . . He immediately turned flukes and staid down ½ an hour at a time when we wanted to see him most. However we Killed him by starlight for it was a Dark night & no moon. . . . At 10 PM took along side . . . latter part cut him in and gave the Hector the Head & one Blanket piece. But Killing Whales in dark pitch night To me it does not seem quite right And if I tell the truth tis certain There’s nothing in it that’s diverting

The Full Ship Ch. 115: “The Pequod Meets the Bachelor” And jolly enough were the sights and sounds that came bearing down before the wind some few weeks after Ahab’s harpoon had been welded. It was a Nantucket ship, the Bachelor, which had just wedged in her last cask of oil, and bolted down her bursting hatches. . . . Sideways lashed in each of her three basketed tops were two barrels of sperm; above which, in her top-mast cross-trees, you saw slender breakers of the same precious fluid; and nailed to her main truck was a brazen lamp. As was afterwards learned, the Bachelor had met with the most surprising success; all the more wonderful, for that while cruising in the same seas numerous other vessels had gone entire months without securing a single fish. Log 102 Ship Harvest, 1828–31, David N. Edwards, master; George Washington Gardner Jr., keeper: Remarks Friday July 29th 1831—First part finished stowing down and cleaned the deck and set the studding sails. . . . Latter part knocked down the try works and threw the bricks overboard and lashed the Pots between the knees . . . so after a long voyage we have been fortunate to fill our ship completely full and we have stored down 2914 barrels close gauge. So Ends. At length that happy day has arrived no longer we delay Our ship is full and homeward bound To Sweet America Dr. Leslie W. Ottinger, a physician, retired to Nantucket in 1996. He has been a volunteer reader of whaling logs and journals in the Research Library since 1999 and has contributed several articles to Historic Nantucket.

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na mi ng the

: Howland Island, New Nantucket, Guano, Amelia Earhart, and the minerva smyth BY STUART M. FRANK, PH.D.

It Is often saId, and rightfully, that various islands in the Pacific — including a few that were of tactical and strategic importance to American forces during World War II — were first discovered and explored by nineteenth-century whalers. However, the specifics are seldom explained, some of the circumstances are only vaguely known, and most of the particulars remain unclear. There seems to be a lot of confusion about who discovered what, when. Now, a journal kept by seaman Lewis Handy of Sandwich, Massachusetts,1 on a whaling voyage of 1824–27 in the New Bedford ship Minerva Smyth, commanded by Daniel McKenzie for Isaac Howland Jr. & Co. sheds new light upon the chronology, sequence, naming, and subsequent significance of the three so-called Guano Islands, in which Nantucketers played a significant part.2 The journal was recently acquired by the New Bedford Whaling Museum. In addition to well-documented landfalls by official American naval expeditions, some of the landmark discoveries by Yankee mariners are generally familiar, perhaps especially those of the whaling and sealing captains who are nowadays regarded as pioneers in Antarctic waters. One of these was Amasa Delano (1763–1823) of Duxbury, Massachusetts, a kinsman of Franklin Delano Roosevelt who is better known as the real-life model for the chronically oblivious sea captain who becomes a naïve pawn in Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno—a searing portrait, based on Delano’s own memoirs.3 Captain Delano is known for charting part of Antarctica in 10 | Historic Nantucket

1817—a sighting that some claim to have been the first, though there are adherents of at least one or two contemporaneous British claims. However, what Delano and his British counterparts actually saw was not the continent itself but rather the ice shelf and perhaps one of the Antarctic islands, so Delano and his British rivals are not the only claimants. Nathaniel Palmer (1799–1877) is revered in his native Stonington, Connectcut, for what many maintain is a more significant first, accomplished in 1820: sighting and recognizing the actual Antarctic continental land-mass. Even apart from his whaling prowess, Mercator Cooper (1803–72, of Sag Harbor, Long Island, New York), has two claims to fame. First, as master of the whaleship Manhattan of Sag Harbor on a Pacific Ocean whaling voyage, he blundered and blustered his way into history. At that time and for the preceding two centuries, Japan’s draconian Tokugawa government forbade contact with foreigners, barring foreign ships from entering Japan and prohibiting the Japanese themselves from making deepwater voyages. Japanese maritime endeavor was thus restricted to coastwise trading and fishing in onshore waters in small craft.4 Transgressions were theoretically punishable by death. Captain Cooper, cruising for whales in the Manhattan on the so-called Japan Grounds in 1845, rescued the castaway crews of two disabled Japanese trading vessels that had been blown out to sea. Ignoring the embargo, he took them back to Japan, gently forcing his way past a flotilla of

watercraft deployed to deter him, and landed the castaways at Tateyama and Uraga, on Honshu. There, the local authorities only reluctantly permitted the shipwrecked sailors to be repatriated, the Americans were not permitted to set foot on Japanese soil, and Cooper was politely Portrait of Mercator Cooper by Fordham invited to sail away and Hubbard (1794–1872), circa 1840. The whaling never return—which he scene in the background is a faithful copy did, but not before he and after the lithograph South Sea Whaling by his officers and crew William John Huggins (1781–1845). exchanged souvenirs with NEW BEDFORD WHALING MUSEUM their unpremeditated Japanese hosts. There is no extant record of what the Yankee sailors presented to the Japanese—perhaps knives, shirts, hats, tobacco, and other goods readily at hand on shipboard; but they received in return small ceramic and lacquer-ware objects, an elaborate woodblock-printed map of Japan, a charming watercolor portrait of the Manhattan, and at least one scroll chronicling the history-making encounter in handwritten Chinese characters with watercolor and ink illustrations. It was not so much a discovery as a pioneering exchange, a decade before Japan was finally, forcibly opened to trade with the West. Then, a few years later, on a whaling and sealing voyage in the ship Levant of Sag Harbor, Captain Cooper made the first-ever actual landfall on the Antarctic continent, at Victoria Land on January 26, 1853. Either he or one of his subalterns (reports vary) was likely the first human being ever to set foot on the Antarctic continent. Like Mercator Cooper, whaling captain Daniel McKenzie was keenly interested in Pacific geography and contributed substantially to mariners’ knowledge of the vast region. Whalers had first arrived in the Hawaiian Islands in 1819. By the time McKenzie called there in the mid-1820s, Honolulu, on Oahu, and to a lesser extent, Lahaina, on Maui, had become the centers of Pacific operations for the whaling fleet. In the course of seasonal whaling cruises to the north and south, the whalers discovered and charted various landfalls, corrected errors in the published latitudes and longitudes of remote islands and atolls, contributed to improving the accuracy of nautical charts and sailing directions, located reefs and identified shoal water and other hazards to navigation, and made their own recognition drawings and sailing directions when they found the existing ones deficient. Lewis Handy’s journal of his voyage in the Minerva Smyth, covering the period August 28, 1824, to March 24, 1827, provides firsthand insights into this process that seem to be available almost nowhere else.

The Guano Islands are three small, flat, uninhabited coral islands in the central Pacific, so called because the extensive rookeries there came to be exploited by American interests for their abundant guano (thick deposits of bird droppings), which for a period of years was brought back in enormous quantities to the United States, where it was processed to be used as fertilizer. Howland Island and Baker Island lie about 40 miles (65 km) apart just north of the Equator and about 1,600 miles (2,600 km) southwest of Honolulu. Howland covers 455 acres (>185 hectares) of low, windswept, sandy land surrounded by 32,074 acres (13,022 hectares) of submerged land. Baker is similar but slightly smaller: 405 acres (>164 hectares), surrounded by 30,504 acres (12,385 hectares) of submerged land. Jarvis Island, by far the largest of the three, is situated a few miles south of the Equator, about 1,000 miles (1,600 km) east of Howland and Baker, and 1,300 miles (2,200 km) south of Honolulu, comprising 1,086 acres (>441 hectares) of land and 35,397 acres (>14,371 hectares) of submerged land. Baker Island was first discovered in 1818 by whalers in the Nantucket ship Equator, commanded by Captain Elisha Folger, who named it New Nantucket. It was sighted again in 1825 by the Nantucket whaleship Loper under Captain Obed Starbuck, who referred to it as New Nantucket, indicating that the island and its name were already known, at least among Nantucket mariners.

Manuscript chart of New Zealand drawn by whaling captain Daniel McKenzie: North and South Island. The charts are associated with McKenzie’s journal of 1837–40. NEW BEDFORD WHALING MUSEUM LOGBOOK #607

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na m I ng t h e Pac I f Ic However, in 1839 Captain Michael Baker in the whaleship Braganza of New Bedford rediscovered the island, made note of the guano deposits, and gave the island his own name. Perhaps because of interest in the commercial possibilities of guano, and that it was Captain Baker whose report brought news of the guano deposits to New England, Baker is the name that stuck. But what has evaded the whaling annals and official records, and thus is not generally known to historians, is that, according to Lewis Handy’s journal, the Minerva Smyth sighted the island in 1826 and also referred to it as New Nantucket: Thursday, March the 8 – at 7 AM saw the Island of New Nantucket in the Lat[itude] of 15 miles North Long[itude] by A[c]count 176:27 West at 9 Lowrd the Boat and tried to Land but Could nt the Surf run so high Ends pleasant Lat 00:05 North Long 177:30 W

That Lewis Handy’s Minerva Smyth journal refers to New Nantucket — presumably on the authority of Captain McKenzie — indicates that the island was known as such even in New Bedford, and that Captain Baker’s renaming thirteen years later may have been capricious and opportunistic. Jarvis Island was discovered in 1818, the same year as Baker Island, by a British whaleship Eliza Frances of London under a Captain Brown, who named it after the owners of his ship, Messrs. Edward, Thomas, and William Jarvis. Subsequent whaler visitors gave it other names. Captain Michael Baker landed there a few times in the 1830s in the New Bedford ship Braganza and, without attempting to

Manuscript chart of Cloudy Bay. NEW BEDFORD WHALING MUSEUM LOGBOOK #607

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change the name, claimed it for the United States—successfully, as it turned out. However, the British name—Jarvis—is the one that stuck even after American sovereignty was firmly established and guano production begun on a massive scale in the 1850s. Lewis Handy records in his journal that the Minerva Smyth sighted Jarvis in May 1825, did some whaling within sight of the island nine months later, and actually landed there and salvaged some ship fittings and gear from a British shipwreck: Sunday / May the 15 [1825]. . . . at 11 [AM] saw Land it is called Jarvis Island. . . . Monday / May the 16. . . . Stood of[f] till 12 o[clock] tacked in for the Land Saw it no more the Current Swept us to Se[a]ward . Wednes[day] February the 1st [1826] Commences with moderate winds and fair weather . . . at 11 AM made Jarvis Island in the Lat of 00:02 Long of 160:[08]. . . . Thursday / Feb 2 . . . at 2 PM raised a shoal of Sperm Whales. Lowred the Boats and Pulled for them . . . they came up 3 miles to windward of us . Returned on board the Land in sight to se[a]ward . . . Run down to it . . . at 10 AM the Capt went on Shore. Friday / February the 3 – Commences with Light winds and pleasant weather. . . at 1 PM the Boat Returned with some cases and Copper Bolts Blocks and so forth Being a part of the wreck of the Ship Mary of London . . . made Sail and Steerd to the SSE .

Because of much later events, Howland is nowadays the best known of the Guano Islands, and the history of its nomenclature is far the most interesting of the three. The island, one of the Kingsmill Group of the Gilbert and Ellis Islands (in modern-day Kiribati), is said to have been discovered but not inhabited by Polynesian voyagers around 1822, and became known to Americans not long afterwards when the Nantucket whaleship Oeno, Captain George B. Worth, sighted it and named it Worth Island, circa 1822–24. However, Captain Worth and his entire ship’s company were massacred in the Fiji Islands on the next voyage of the Oeno in 1825, with no one surviving to defend the claim. The party line on Howland Island is that it was named after the lookout who first spotted it from the bark Isabella of Fairhaven, Mass., under Captain George E. Netcher, in 1842. This was George F. Howland, one of the boatsteerers. However, it is not clear that it was the bark Isabella of Fairhaven and not the ship Isabella of New Bedford, in which latter case the namesake could have been the fourth mate, John Howland; or the captain, Edward Howland. It need hardly be pointed out that newly discovered islands are seldom named for lowly subalterns on a vessel of which the captain had as yet no island named after himself. Thus the captain, Edward Howland, seems far the most likely candidate of the three. However, Lewis Handy’s journal demonstrates that all of these claims are erroneous. Even the Polynesian voyagers who came there in 1822 were preceded by Russians two years earlier. In 1820

Works of Clark’s Cove Guano Company (Dartmouth, Mass.). Lithograph by Joseph L. Jones. Boston: George H. Walker & Co., circa 1879–86. NEW BEDFORD WHALING MUSEUM #1989.30.1

the Russian mariner Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen discovered it and named it Vostok Island. The Polynesians arrived in 1822, George Worth discovered the island again not long afterwards, and the Minerva Smyth called there twice during 1825–26. Interestingly, on her second visit, in November 1826, Handy’s journal identifies the landfall as Vostok Island. But by 1842, when the island was supposedly christened by someone named Howland in some ship or bark named Isabella, the island had already been known as Howland intermittently for around sixteen years. The name goes back to the Minerva Smyth in 1826. Handy’s journal informs us that when the Minerva Smyth sighted the island on January 5, 1826, they thought at first that they had discovered an uncharted island, which they named Howland Island after Isaac Howland Jr., managing agent of the Minerva Smyth. at 8 AM Discovered an Island covered with wood A heavy Surf Breaking upon all sides of it we Suppose it to be an Island that has Never Been Discovered Before it is not Laid down on our Charts or Navigations We Call it Howland Island it being in the Lat[itude] of 10°:08 S Long[itude] of 152°:40 West. . . .

howland Island—aftermath On that same 1824–27 voyage the Minerva Smyth also called at Huahine, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Guam, Saipan, Iwo Jima, and others of the Carolines, Gilberts, Solomons, and Society Islands, as well as the Azores, the Cape Verdes, and other landfalls in the Atlantic and South

America. Her next voyage (the second of three commanded by Captain Daniel McKenzie in the Minerva Smyth) brought her to Howland again in 1828. In fact, while missionaries, merchants, fugitives, adventurers, and on-the-beach sailors colonized many of the other Pacific islands, the whalers were just about the only ones to call at Baker, Jarvis, and Howland — until the 1850s, when they were annexed by the United States and exploited for guano—which forms the next chapter in the historic connection between the Guano Islands, the whaling trade, and the New Bedford Port District. The Guano Islands Act, passed by Congress in 1856, essentially authorized commercial entities to assert American sovereignty over any uninhabited island worldwide for the purpose of exploiting its guano resources. Accordingly, the Guano Islands were formally annexed as a U.S. territory, while nominally recognizing the competing claims of the American Guano Company on Baker and Jarvis, and the United States Guano Company on Howland. Nevertheless, the American Guano Company occupied Baker and Jarvis, as authorized, but also occupied Howland in 1859, before U.S. Guano could take actual possession. Then, in 1861, U.S. Guano forcibly ousted American Guano. The dispute was not settled until 1865, at the close of the Civil War, when the New York State Supreme Court ruled that the islands “be exploited in common by both companies.”5 Former whaling captain Alexander Almy was made Assistant Superintendent of the American Guano Company in 1871, but he died on Jarvis in 1872.6 Only a few years later, in 1879, the guano deposits on Baker, Jarvis, and Howland were finally abandoned when the guano gave out. Fall 2011 | 13

na m I ng t h e Pac I f Ic Perhaps the most famous of the otherwise little-known episodes in Guano Island history is the mysterious disappearance of the pioneering aviatrix Amelia Earhart. During her attempt to fly across the Pacific and around the world, she took of from Oakland, California, on March 17, 1937, with her navigator Fred Noonan. They were scheduled to land on Howland Island on July 2, but they never made it, and what fate befell them has never been discovered. Meanwhile, a government scheme in the 1930s to make use of Howland prompted more activity than the islands had seen since the 1870s. According to Michael J. Trinklein:

no t e s 1

Lewis Handy was born September 23, 1803, at Sandwich, Mass., on Cape Cod, the fourth of nine children and eldest of four sons of Love (née Swain) Handy and Captain William Handy Sr. Like his father and two of his brothers, Lewis went whaling in his youth. The eldest brother, William Jr. (1801–79), rose through the ranks to be captain on three whaling voyages out of New Bedford, but Lewis left off whaling long before he had gotten that far and made his career as a master mariner in the merchant service. He embarked on his first whaling voyage at age 17 in the New Bedford brig Commodore

Because the island is located halfway between Hawaii and Australia, many believed it would be an ideal place to refuel planes making the journey between the two landmasses. So the United States tried to colonize Howland in 1935. And by “colonize,” I mean the Department of Commerce dropped off a few young men (and a couple of tons of canned food) and promised to re-supply them after a hundred days or so.7

Decatur (May 1820–August 1821), commanded by his father (his only whaling voyage as captain). Lewis probably made another whaling voyage or two during 1821–24 but the circumstances have not been discovered. His next and probably his last outing was in the Minerva Smyth (August 1824–March 1827). According to some genealogical sources, he may at some point have been married to a Susan Landers and had a son named William Lewis Handy. But if this happened at all it must have been prior to July 17, 1828, when he married Fanny Brett of Rochester or Marion, Mass. The union produced eight

They cleared some land for a landing strip and constructed “a few ramshackle buildings. After a few months, the men were rotated off the island and replaced with fresh recruits. This exchange continued for [five or six] years.” Then, on December 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese bombed and strafed Howland Island. A few days later, Japanese submarines “blasted what was left of the island’s meager buildings” and “bombers continued to shell the runways.” Two of the colonists were killed and the two survivors were rescued a few weeks afterwards,8 closing the chapter on the prospect of a Howland Island aerodrome. Once a reference point for Yankee whaleships on the trackless deep, then — twice, briefly in both instances — the scene of hopeful but short-lived enterprise, and uninhabited ever since, Howland has for the past seventy years languished, and except for the shadow of Amelia Earhart is mostly unremembered. And except for cartographers and a few Pacific navigators, Jarvis and Baker are almost entirely unknown. Michael Trinklein provides a fitting coda:

children, at least two of whom also went whaling. Lewis himself remained active as a merchant sea captain well into his sixties, and died on April 10, 1883, at Sandwich, aged 89. 2

agents; Captain Daniel McKenzie, 28 August 1824–24 March 1827: New Bedford Whaling Museum, logbook 1284 (accession #2008.43). 3

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See Walter Teller, ed., Five Sea Captains: Amasa Delano, Edmund Fanning, Richard Cleveland, George Coggeshall, and Joshua Slocum: Their Own Accounts of Voyages under Sail (New York: Atheneum, 1960).


The exceptions were that certain Chinese and Korean traders were allowed to enter certain Japanese ports, and one Dutch merchant ship per year was permitted to land at the Dutch trading enclave of Dejima, at Nagasaki.


Bob Hilkens, “States and Regents of the World,”


Alexander Almy, born in New York circa 1832, was a career seaman working out of New Bedford from circa 1850. From 1857 to 1862 he was whaling in the bark Morning Star, having shipped as a green hand and then been successively promoted to seaman, boatsteerer, and junior mate. He was afterwards

Those landing strips [on Howland] remain the island’s strange irony. The United States made great efforts to build them, the Japanese were intent on bombing them, and Amelia Earhart likely died trying to find them. Yet there is no record of any plane ever landing on Howland Island.9 Stuart M. Frank is Senior Curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, founder and director of the Scrimshaw Forensics Laboratory®, Director Emeritus of the Kendall Whaling Museum, and author of the books Herman Melville’s Picture Gallery, Dictionary of Scrimshaw Artists, More Scrimshaw Artists, The Book of Pirate Songs, Jolly Sailors Bold: Ballads and Songs of the American Sailor, the forthcoming books Scrimshaw and Provenance and Scrimshaw in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and numerous articles, chapters, and monographs on maritime art, music, history, and culture. A graduate of Wesleyan University, he holds master’s degrees from Yale and Brown and a Ph.D. from Brown.

Ship Minerva Smyth of New Bedford; Isaac Howland, Jr., & Co., managing

captain of four short Arctic whaling voyages in Hawaiian registry from Honolulu, in the schooner Pfeil (1868-69) and brig Kohola (1870-71). Only a few months after his appointment as an administrator at American Guano, he died suddenly in an accident on Jarvis. A brief obituary notice appeared in the New York Herald on September 13, 1872: “SUDDEN DEATH OF AN AMERICAN OFFICIAL: Captain Alexander Almy, Assistant Superintendent of the American Guano Co., was killed on the 14th of May by being thrown from a car on Jarvis Island.” 7

Michael J. Trinklein, Lost States: True Stories of Texlahoma, Transylvania, and Other States that Never Made It (Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2010), p. 54.








“GS” double-flued harpoon attributed to George Swain

forty years. When my wife, Nina, opened an antiques shop on Nantucket in 1983, I thought I would try to zero in on pieces made by Nantucket blacksmiths, and in the course of that endeavor, I made several rather disappointing discoveries. I was well aware that authentic old whaling tools are always scarce in the antiques marketplace, but Nantucket-made pieces are especially hard to find. Most discouraging is that information about the Nantucket makers is almost nonexistent, stemming mostly from the fact that until late in the nineteenth and early in the twentieth century, Nantucket had no comprehensive business or personal directories. There were only a few fragmentary directories of Nantucket County, such as in the Massachusetts Register of 1852, 1856, and perhaps some other years, and as part of the Henry F. Walling map of Nantucket in 1858. Several state censuses also listed some Nantucket blacksmiths, but they, too, are fragmentary. Unfortunately, the U. S. census didn’t list occupations until 1850, by which time the whaling industry from this island was fast dying. Even though whaling continued out of Nantucket until 1869, seventeen vessels made only twenty-six voyages from this port, in the entire decade of the 1860s. Fifty-two named blacksmiths appear in the Nantucket 1850 census, and twenty-one are named in 1860, but I believe only a small fraction of these were regular “whalecraft” makers. In 1946, in commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the “Great Fire” of 1846, the Proceedings of the Nantucket Historical Association featured an article by historian Edouard Stackpole, which lists the names and shop locations of fifteen blacksmiths who purportedly resumed business within seven weeks after that disastrous July 13 fire. (I have as yet no idea of how Stackpole was able to find their business locations.) However, his article is useful in identifying whalecraft makers from the latter days of Nantucket’s whaling history. By studying the listings in the NHA’s extensive Account Book Collection (MS 10), and examining pertinent items, I was able to identify the names of other, earlier, whaling blacksmiths from this island, a very few going back as far as the late eighteenth century, as well as later makers who are not mentioned in the Stackpole article. In spite of their scarcity, to date, I have been able to collect about twenty-five whaling tools, which I believe, or know for sure, were made by approximately ten Nantucket blacksmiths, either on the island, or shortly after their leaving the island. Some of these I had collected years before, and have now recognized them for what they are; only a few of them were collected on Nantucket. In this article, I write about, and illustrate, some of them, arranged by maker, roughly in chronological order from the earliest to the latest. In most cases the shop locations, where given, are from Stackpole’s 1946 article. I have just two comments on whaling blacksmiths: they could have been shoeing horses part of the day, but when they were making tools for the whale hunt, they were making “whalecraft,” and the harpoons they made were called “irons.” I have already used the first term, and will continue to use both of them. Fall 2011 | 15



“SBF” double-flued harpoon

SAMUEL BROWN FOLGER (1795–1864) Samuel was one of the early-nineteenth-century blacksmiths. The NHA has at least one bill from Samuel, in 1819, to the owners of the ill-fated Nantucket whaler Essex, sunk by a sperm whale in 1820. Perhaps he made all of the whalecraft for that doomed voyage. I have three pieces by this maker. The first is a double-flued harpoon that I bought in 1972 from a Portsmouth, New Hampshire, dealer at an antiques show in New York State. I did not recognize it as a Nantucket-made piece until many years later. It is stamped on one side “SBF,” for the maker, and on the opposite side it is chisel-marked with the letter “Z”—possibly for the Nantucket whaleship Zone (ca. 1827–47). This harpoon has non-curved cutting, and rearflue edges, which, while not exclusive to Nantucket-made double-flued irons, are frequently characteristic of them. I have two whale cutting-in spades, also marked “SBF” eagle stamp “SBF.” The first of these is fascinating: Beneath the maker’s three initials is the image of a spread-winged eagle, with flag shield, and looking to its right. This spade belonged to the well-known local historian and wood and ivory carver, Charlie F. Sayle Sr., who lived on Nantucket for over seventy years. I visited Charlie shortly before his death in 1993, and photographed him holding this spade, which he told me he had bought on Nantucket many years earlier. Pictorial images on American whalecraft are virtually unheard of, but I have two in my Nantucket collection. My feeling is that both of these might have been made in 1826— as a show of pride and patriotism (as well as competition) to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the United States of America. In 1994 this spade was sold at auction here on Nantucket, and I was lucky enough to be able to buy it. Samuel Brown Folger was the grandfather of Henry Clay Folger Jr., who in the late 1930s founded the famous Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. “SBF” eagle spade

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I have one harpoon and two spades made by this early blacksmith. The harpoon is stamped on its head by a die with the single letter “A.” Apparently, some local smiths were satisfied with only the letter indicating their surnames, as we shall see again later. No doubt it was cheaper to buy a die with a single letter than one with two or three letters. This harpoon is chisel-marked for the Nantucket ship Alpha, built in Mattapoisett in 1834 for the Nantucket firm of Hadwen & Barney, which some years later operated the candle factory that in 1930 became, and is still a part of, the Nantucket Whaling Museum. This iron was bought at auction on Nantucket. One of my Atwood spades is marked “NA” and was found in a house on Fair Street, here on Nantucket. The second spade I bought at an auction on Cape Cod in 1966. This was about the time that I became a whaling tool collector, and this early spade was the first one I had ever bought. I had no idea about the maker; I was so naive that I didn’t even know it was marked. It was some years later that I realized it was stamped with the letters “NA” above the very worn image of a spreadwinged eagle with flag shield and sheaf of arrows in its talons. It appears to be looking to its left. It was only after I saw the “SBF” eagle spade many years later that the possible explanation (suggested under SAMUEL BROWN FOLGER, above) hit me. I feel strongly that patriotism and competition are why these two anomalies exist, but have no idea of who is copying whom. A last thought about the two “NA” spades: Most whaling spades, even such early ones, have socket seams that are welded closed, with the seam often invisible. Both of the “NA” spades have open seams, as would be found on American harpoons—a further indication that both spades were by the same maker, most probably Nathaniel Atwood. Nathaniel had a blacksmith son, George W. Atwood (1809–90), who, according to the Stackpole article, had a shop on Old South Wharf. Perhaps this was the location of Nathaniel’s shop as well.

“NA” eagle spade (left); “SBF” eagle spade (right)




I have two double-flued harpoons, each stamped by the maker with a single letter “F.” One was bought at auction in Bolton, Massachusetts, and the other bought from a dealer in Newburyport, Massachusetts. One is chisel-marked Alpha for the Nantucket whaler of that name (mentioned previously), and the other is marked Alabama, for the whaleship of that name, built for Nantucket owners in Medford, Massachusetts, in 1846. We have hanging in our home the registration for the Alabama for its maiden voyage of 1846. I remember clearly holding that iron while looking at that registration and lamenting why this blacksmith used a trademark with only a single letter. An American ship’s registration always lists the names of all the ship’s owners. The answer struck me like a ton of bricks. The third name listed was Charles A. Folger, a blacksmith with a shop on Old South Wharf. Surely a major owner of a vessel, who provided services needed by that vessel, would most likely be the one hired to supply those services. That is the way business works today and no doubt worked in the 1840s. I now had a very good attribution for the “F” mark.

I have two double-flued harpoons that I am attributing to George Swain. Both are stamped on the head “GS.” The “GS” doublefirst I bought about ten flued iron years ago from a friend on Nantucket who had bought it from Sylvia Antiques on Nantucket some years earlier. I spoke to the late Sam Sylvia just after my purchase, and he told me he had found it in an old house at the corner of Vestal Street and Quaker Lane. The second iron I bought in 2003 from a dealer in Maine. He said it came from someone in North Carolina who had Nantucket connections. I know about two more “GS” irons: the twisted one in the Whaling Museum here that records say came to the NHA from New Bedford (with no further provenance); and the other is in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. How did it get there? In the 1880s, solicitations were made to all current and former American whaling centers seeking gifts of whaling items for a huge International Fisheries exhibition to be held in London, England, in 1883. The Smithsonian’s “GS” iron was donated by Joseph B. Macy, an important whaleship owner from the very last days of Nantucket whaling. This iron was displayed and described in a section of the London exhibition’s catalog, titled “The Whale Fishery and Its Appliances,” written by James Templeman Brown. I have examined and photographed this harpoon at the Smithsonian. All four “GS” irons are as alike as peas in a pod, with atypical curved cutting edges. All were probably used, but no readable ship’s markings remain. I have attributed all to George Swain, because he was a significant player in the local blacksmithing field. He lived for nearly ninety years, and his obituary in the Inquirer and Mirror, dated May 20, 1880, states that “He is known, while in his 81st year, to have shod a horse with all four shoes.” I know nothing about horses and their shoeing, but I guess he was a tower of strength. There was a “GS” blacksmith, in the 1850 U.S. Census, named George Sprague, twenty-four years old, but he does not appear in 1860. I seriously doubt that he is the GS of these four earlynineteenth-century harpoons.

EDWARD FOLGER (1801/?–1875) There were at least three significant Folger whalecraft makers here during the 1830s and 1840s, and even later. Two of them we have already met. I have two pieces that I am attributing to Edward, who had a shop on New North Wharf (now called Steamboat Wharf), both before and after the fire of 1846. One is an early spade, bought from a dealer on Nantucket and purportedly found by workmen inside a wall of an early house on Low Beach Road in ’Sconset. The house was believed to have been the summer home of the famous whaleship owner Henry Coffin, whose house in town was at 75 Main Street. The other is a fine double-flued harpoon that I bought at auction on Cape Cod. Unfortunately, the harpoon is in unused condition and bears no ship’s markings. But it is unusual in having two markings, both reading “FOLGER”—only a little more telling than the minimalist single letter “F,” sometimes used by Charles Austin Folger. The spade is also marked “FOLGER,” with what seems to have been the same die. Harpoon and spade stamped “FOLGER” attributed to Edward Folger

Twisted “GS” iron in NHA Collection

Two Charles A. Folger double-flued irons marked “F” Fall 2011 | 17


ALLEN SMITH (1816–1901)



Allen had a shop on New North Wharf in 1846, according to the Stackpole article, which lists the blacksmith firm of R. & A. Smith. The “R” is believed to have been Robinson Smith, about whom very little is known. In the 1858 Walling map, Nantucket “Business Directory,” the only blacksmith listed is Allen Smith, with a shop on New North Wharf. The 1850 U.S. Census lists both Allen and Robinson, but the 1860 Census has Allen only. In 1994, I bought at an auction in Brockton, Massachusetts, a single-flued harpoon stamped “A. SMITH.” I don’t know that this iron had any Nantucket connections, and although Smith is probably the commonest American surname, I have found no other whaling blacksmith named A. Smith listed anywhere. Unfortunately, although this iron has signs of ship’s marks, they are too affected by corrosion to be readable. For the present, at least, I am including this iron among my Nantucket pieces, albeit with a question mark.

Paddack had his shop on Commercial Wharf, the fifth, or southernmost, of Nantucket’s five whaling wharves—and the only one not destroyed by the Great Fire of 1846. Examination of the NHA Account Book Collection (MS 10) reveals that Charles was a very active whalecraft maker during the latter years of Nantucket’s fishery and that George, Matthew, and William Starbuck, of Three Bricks fame, were among his good customers. I have three Paddack harpoons—one a head remnant of a double flue, which I bought forty years ago for ten dollars at a flea market in Poughkeepsie, New York. The dealer told me that it was dug up in a yard in that Hudson River former whaling community. Perhaps it broke off behind its head and was later found in a whale taken by a Poughkeepsie whaleship. The other two Paddack irons are a single flue and a Temple-type toggle iron, bought from a dealer in Newburyport, Massachusetts. All three pieces are stamped “CRP.” None have readable ship’s marks. The NHA has at least four Charles Paddack harpoons— most on display in the Whaling Museum. One extremely twisted one is chiselmarked for George & Matthew Starbuck’s ship Norman.

Gifford also had his shop on Commercial Wharf. Whaling was rapidly dying in the 1860s, and the shipsmith business became very bleak indeed. In the late 1860s, Gustavus moved to Charlestown (now part of Boston) where for a time he was employed in the Navy Yard there. About 1870, he teamed up with another Gifford named Eugene H. (perhaps a relative) and they opened a blacksmith shop on Medford Street in Charlestown, named G. & E. H. Gifford. Some years ago I acquired an 1870 billhead for that firm—a bill for pickaxes, which is interesting in having a logo showing four different styles of harpoons, a lance, and a whaling spade. Even more interesting, a few years earlier I had bought from a dealer in San Diego, California, an unused, improved toggle iron stamped on the head “G&EHG.” I have three other, probably Nantucketmade whaling pieces, by Gustavus Gifford, all bought off island many years before. One is a double-flued iron stamped “GIFFORD’S,” most likely dating from the 1840s or 50s. A spade just like the one illustrated on the billhead is also stamped “GIFFORD’S” and “CAST STEEL.” The last piece is a five-foot-long, early-style killing lance, (called a “common lance”), served on its socket for use, and stamped “GIFFORD’S” or “GIFFORD.” About three years ago, we bought in Maine a cast-steel lance marked “GIFFORD’S,” which Nina sold in her shop. In February of 2003, Nina and I visited Antarctica by cruise ship. After leaving the Antarctic Peninsula, we made an unscheduled visit to a Chilean research station on Greenwich Island in the South Shetlands. They were delighted to see us as they had had no visitors, so far, in that Antarctic summer. I was amazed to find a little museum on that island. In one of the museum’s showcases I was astounded to see a Nantucket whaling lance stamped “GIFFOR(D’S).” Will wonders never cease!

A. SMITH” single-flued iron

Single-flued and Temple-type irons stamped “CRP”

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Spade and double-flued iron stamped “GIFFORD’S”

Temple-type iron stamped “DM”

DAVID MITCHELL (1799–1875)

ELISHA(I) PARKER (1819–84)

About two years ago, I bought from a dealer on Nantucket a very fine Temple-type toggle harpoon, in obviously unused condition. Lewis Temple was an African-American whaling blacksmith from New Bedford, who, in about 1848, is credited with developing the first toggle harpoon for use in the American whale fishery. Temple was a fine blacksmith, but he was illiterate, and he never patented his invention. His harpoon was so successful that every whalecraft maker in America made what collectors like me call “Temple-type” knockoffs. The Nantucket dealer I bought from said this harpoon came from a collection in the Midwest, and he knew nothing more about its source, It is marked clearly on one side of the head with the stamped letters “DM.” Because it was never used there are no ship’s markings. On Nantucket in the 1850s and ’60s, there was a blacksmith named David Mitchell whose shop was on Straight Wharf. He was the only blacksmith on Nantucket with those initials, nor could I find any others with those initials in the 1850 or 1860 U. S. Census Reports for the other major whaling ports of the eastern U.S.—New Bedford, New London, or Sag Harbor. My attribution, therefore, until I find otherwise, is that this iron was most likely the product of Nantucket’s David Mitchell.

Elisha Parker is said to have been the last whaling blacksmith on Nantucket, working in that trade until whaling ended here in 1869. His shop was on Cross Wharf, the little north–south– running wharf connecting Old North Wharf with Straight Wharf. It burned down in the 1846 fire, along with the others. In the Parker family today, there is an oral tradition that Elisha removed his blacksmith’s tools, probably in bags, and dropped them into the sea outside his shop’s door to protect them from the coming conflagration. If this is true, perhaps many others did the same thing, which, as Stackpole states, perhaps partly enabled them to reopen within seven weeks after the fire. I have three Parker pieces in my collection, all bought off island. One is an early spade with part of the original wooden handle; one is a Temple-type toggle iron; the last is a singleflued iron. All are stamped “E. PARKER,” probably by the same die. The singleflued example is especially interesting for several reasons. It is chiselmarked “ABBIE. B. D.” for the whaling schooner Abbie Bradford. After the letter “D,” it is marked “N.T.,” doubtless for the port of Nantucket. It is almost unheard of for American harpoons to bear marks indicating the whaling port. The only Reverse side of Parker single-flued iron other one I remember (opposite) marked seeing was an iron for “ABBIE B.D. N.T.” the bark Alice, in the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum, in New York State. On it is chiseled “L.I.N.Y.” for Long Island, New York. The Abbie Bradford made only two voyages from Nantucket—the first in 1867 and the second in 1869, the final year of Nantucket’s whaling. Here we see a well-used single-flued whaling iron, with socket served with marlin and its harpoon shaft wavy from use, some twenty years after the appearance of the toggle harpoon—the mainstay of most whalemen. This is a good example illustrating the conservative nature of the American whaling industry.

E.PARKER” single-flued iron from the Abbie Bradford

G. & E. H. Gifford billhead Fall 2011 | 19


THE MYSTERY MAN (active 1821–24) A few years ago we bought at an auction a Nantucket blacksmith’s account book from 1821 to 1824. As of now I have been unable to identify the keeper of this book, whom I have dubbed the “Mystery Man.” From the summer or fall of 1821, until April 6, 1823, he was located somewhere on Nantucket. In his next entry, May 1, 1823, and until the book ends in September of 1824, he was working in Providence Rhode Island. The book is in poor condition, mostly disbound, with much of it pasted up as a scrapbook, and part of it has obvious water and mold damage. In spite of these defects, much of it is quite readable, and those sections that are from Nantucket are fascinatingly perplexing. He did things that all whalecraft makers did—supplying whaling gear for ships Peruvian, John Jay, and Hero, in 1821, and Golden Farmer, Kingston, and Maro, in 1822, as well as for several ship owners, including Zenas Coffin. He also did a lot of horseshoeing, or, as he puts it, “Shewing Hors.” Most surprising, though, was that many of his customers were other blacksmiths, of which I have identified more than a dozen, including George Swain, Nathaniel Atwood, Edward Folger, and Samuel Brown Folger, the latter an especially frequent customer—all of whom are all represented in my collection. What were these men buying from the Mystery Man? A few were buying whalecraft, like harpoons, at what

Congress double-flued iron with stippled “BxHo”

HARPOON FROM THE SHIP CONGRESS In the year 2000, I bought at auction on Nantucket an early double-flued harpoon, which is chisel-marked very lightly on one side near its head “S. CONGRESS.” I knew a little about this piece. It was bought nine years earlier, at a Cape Cod auction by a dealer from Hawaii, for a private museum on the island of Maui. The mark stands for the ship Congress, which whaled out of Nantucket from 1826 to 1843, when she was sold to New Bedford, whaling from there until 1867 when she was crushed in the Arctic ice. Although it is doubtless a substantial whaling tool, it has some naïve features in its design that would not be the 20 | Historic Nantucket

appear to be discounted prices, and all were buying various ferrous metals. Besides various shapes and sizes of flat iron and rod, we find what appear to be exotic and rare metals—at least for such an early date. Some of the strange terms are: “Sweed Iron,” “Blister Steel,” “Tub Steel,” “Old Sable,” “German Steel,” “Thimble Rods,” “English Round,” “Harpoon Stuff,” “Faggot Flat,” etc. What were these special metals used for? When our Mystery Man moves suddenly to Providence, his business changes as well—no more whalecraft and no more metal purveying. Now he does general blacksmithing and repairs for many of the Providence businesses. There is an 1824 Providence Business Directory which I have consulted, feeling that the Mystery Man should be in it. Of the many Providence blacksmiths listed, not one could I find who was also in the Nantucket genealogies that are available. I have also communicated with librarians and historians in Providence, but no one so far has come up with an identification, This account book provides more questions than answers, but offers a little insight, though mysterious, into Nantucket and whalecraft during the “Golden Age” of Nantucket whaling.

mark of a professional whalecraft maker. The head is not perfectly symmetrical and the angles where the flues meet the shaft are rather crudely chiseled. I suspect that it was either completely made, or repaired, by a ship’s blacksmith. Also, it has no stamped maker’s mark. Opposite the side with the ship’s name, where one would expect to see the maker’s mark, it is very clearly marked “BxHo,” in alternating large and small stippled lettering. When I showed this iron to William Scheer, the blacksmith at Mystic Seaport, he replied, half in jest, “This might be the Rosetta Stone of harpoons.” This is indeed an anomaly, definitely from the whaleship Congress, and possibly from its Nantucket years. It was on the Congress, in 1829, that Cyrus Hussey of Nantucket, one of the two survivors of the infamous Globe mutiny who were rescued by the U.S. Navy vessel Dolphin, died of consumption, at twenty-four years of age. This harpoon could easily have been used on that voyage Robert Hellman, a Nantucket resident and NHA museum interpreter, is a whaling historian and collector of antique whaling artifacts. He has catalogued the whaling tools in the NHA collection and written several articles for Historic Nantucket.

News Notes & Highlights Help the NHA Continue to Exceed Expectations with Your Gift to the Annual Fund In everything we do, the Nantucket Historical Association strives to engage people in new and unexpected ways—to exceed expectations—through memorable and transformative experiences. Just this year alone, the NHA premiered the gateway film Nantucket; exhibited remarkable artifacts from the collections in Nantucket’s Cabinet of Curiosities: A to Z and Eastman Johnson and His Contemporaries; completed the restoration of Greater Light and opened the historic property to the public; and presented an inspiring array of concerts, walking tours, lectures, plays, interpretive programs, and family activities. The Annual Fund provides the vital unrestricted operating funds that enable us to exceed expectations as we carry out our mission. We are grateful for your strong commitment to the NHA and hopeful that you will continue to generously support the NHA with a gift to the Annual Fund by December 31. To make an Annual Fund gift: Use the online form at; mail to the Annual Fund, Nantucket Historical Association, P.O. Box 1016, Nantucket, MA 02554; call (508) 228–1894, ext. 114; or e-mail

Nantucket Film

The July premiere of Nantucket at Children’s Beach

Greater Light restored

1800 House penwork class

As the sun set on the evening of July 1, nearly eight hundred Nantucket residents and visitors settled in at Children’s Beach for the premiere of the new NHA gateway film Nantucket, directed by Emmy Award–winning documentary filmmaker Ric Burns. A delight for the senses, the film features breathtaking cinematography and narration by Nantucket luminaries, including award-winning author Nathaniel Philbrick. Entertaining and educational, the film offers a detailed history of the island, its inhabitants, and its economic and cultural development over three centuries.

Above: Hands-on History in the Discovery Room; left, Family Reunion Celebration. Gifts to the Annual Fund support every aspect of the NHA’s operation and nurture everything we do—from programs to preservation, from events to the visitor’s experience.

Showing three times daily in the museum, Nantucket has drawn rave reviews from those who have watched it; the demand to see the film has been such that a fourth showing on Monday evenings was added to the schedule. During the months of July and August, a total of 9,596 people viewed the film, which translated to roughly 37% of visitors to the museum, and Whaling Museum attendance has gone up 12.6% since the film’s premiere. For those who want to experience the magic again, or share it with others, the film is available on DVD from the Museum Shop, (508) 228–5785, or at Fall 2011 | 21

News Notes & Highlights Aquisitions Highlights E A R LY S C R I M S H AW A N D MAJOR AMERICAN ARTISTS This has been a rewarding year for the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association. In March, the Friends of the NHA purchased an oil-on-board painting by major nineteenth-century American landscape artist George Inness (1825–94) titled Back of Nichols’ Barn, ’Sconset (dated 1883) at Christie’s Fine American Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture sale. “We were delighted to be able to secure this lovely ’Sconset landscape by George Inness,” said Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator Benjamin Simons. “The painting was once owned by Walter Beinecke Jr. and has been on our wish list for some time. It is a major acquisition, and we are hugely grateful to the Friends for making it possible.” With NHA acquisitions funds, the NHA also acquired a “cloth stick” that is one of the earliest pieces of signed and dated Nantucket scrimshaw, inscribed “Sarah Coffin 1819.” The

scrimshawed whalebone measuring stick belonged to Sarah Coffin, possibly the wife of famous whaling master Frederick Coffin; Captain Coffin was instrumental in opening up the Japan Grounds in 1819. In July, the NHA was the recipient of Eastman Johnson’s painting of Captain Nathan H. Manter as a gift from Alexandria and Michael N. Altman, with love for Eliza Pickering, Nicholas James, and Jack Asher Altman. Simons referred to the acquisition as “a thrilling moment,” adding that “the addition of any Johnson is major news. The generosity of the Altman family is remarkable.” The 1873 painting is oilon-paperboard in its original frame and, together with the Inness painting, hangs in the NHA’s Whitney Gallery at the Research Library as part of the Eastman Johnson and His Contemporaries exhibition.

Back of Nichols’ Barn, ‘Sconset by George Inness, 1883

Eastman Johnson’s portrait of Captain Nathan H. Manter November 1873

Brigid Harmon Named Verney Fellow The Nantucket Historical Association is pleased to announce that New York native Brigid Harmon has been named the 2011 E. Geoffrey and Elizabeth Thayer Verney Fellow. The Geoffrey and Elizabeth Thayer Verney Fellowship was established in 1999 with the aim of encouraging scholarship and research in the collections of the Nantucket Historical Association’s Research Library. The endowed fellowship was made possible by a generous gift from Mr. and Mrs. E. Geoffrey Verney, longtime supporters of the NHA. Several past Verney fellows have used their time at the Research Library as a springboard to book-length 22 | Historic Nantucket

projects, including Eric Jay Dolin’s Leviathan. Brigid comes to Nantucket after earning a master’s degree in public history from New York University. Her research interests center on the hierarchy on whaleships as it affected foodways. Harmon became interested in the topic after reading Nathaniel Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, in which Philbrick posits the idea that African American sailors were typically the first to die on whaleships because they were given the least amount of quality nourishment on board the ship. Nearly four hundred whaling logs and journals reside in the NHA Research Library collection,

which serve as the basis for Brigid’s research. At the culmination of her three weeks at the NHA, Brigid will be presenting her findings in a public lecture, and hopes to craft Brigid Harmon an academic article for publication based on her discoveries, as well as a piece for a future issue of Historic Nantucket, the NHA’s quarterly magazine.

2 0 1 1 Festival of Wreaths Christmas on Nantucket is characterized by many unique traditions, including the hanging of holiday wreaths from front doors, car bumpers, and sailboat masts. This year marks the thirteenth year of the NHA’s Festival of Wreaths, where local businesses, nonprofits, and individuals demonstrate their artistic talents by creating one-of-a-kind wreaths that are perfect for hanging in any location. The wreaths will be Wreath by Nancy Chase sold in a silent auction that ends on and Judith Duvall November 27, with proceeds benefiting the NHA’s Education and Outreach Programs. Chaired this year by Alison Forsgren, the festival kicks off in the Whaling Museum on the evening of Tuesday, November 22, with a Preview Party from 5 to 7 P.M., offering attendees the first chance to view and bid on their favorite wreaths. The Festival of Wreaths will open to the public on Wednesday, November 23, at 10 A.M., will remain open 10 A.M. to 5 P.M. daily through Saturday, November 26, and from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. on Sunday, November 27, when bidding on the wreaths will end and the winners will be announced. Admission to the Festival of Wreaths is free. (Closed Thanksgiving)

2 0 1 1 Festival of Trees Imagine the splendor of the Whaling Museum aglow with lights from seventy decorated holiday trees, the building brimming with Christmas cheer. Mark your calendars for the eighteenth annual NHA Festival of Trees and make that image a reality. Inside the Whaling Museum, festival-goers will be treated to a stunning view of Christmas trees adorned with locally inspired decorations by Nantucket businesses, nonprofits, and individuals. The perfect event to set the tone for a fabulous holiday season, the Festival of Trees, cochaired by Jack and Ciara Fritsch, opens with the much-anticipated Preview Party on Thursday, December 1, from 6 to 8 P.M. After opening to the public on Friday, December 2, through Monday, Dec. 5, the Festival of Trees will be open Thursday through Monday, 11 A.M. to 4 P.M., through Tree by the Nantucket Monday, December 19. After the Christmas Garden Club holiday, the festival will be open Monday and Tuesday, December 26 and 27, from 1 to 4 P.M., with a final chance to see the beautiful trees on Monday and Tuesday, January 2 and 3 from 1 to 4 P.M. Admission to the Festival of Trees is free for NHA members and children under six, $5 for year-round Nantucket residents, and $17 for general admission.

Mary-Randolph Ballinger, Anne Gund, Bill Cunningham, and Suzette Smith


August Antiques Show This year’s NHA August Antiques Show set a new standard in excellence, as organizers served up a vast array of happenings to cater to the ever-expanding group of antiques devotees that flock to the show annually. Seventy-six volunteer members of the August Antiques Show Committee worked with NHA administrative staff to stage the three-day antiques extravaganza from August 5 to 7. Exhibitors from New England and across the country arrived on the island to showcase their finery, and a recordsetting 1,468 attendees came to see what they had to offer. Highlights of the show included the ever-popular Preview Party—complete with an impromptu tango performance by local dance professionals that energized the crowd— and a Saturday night gala dinner featuring a moving performance of selections from Moby-Dick, an opera by renowned composer Jake Heggie based on Melville’s classic novel, sung by tenor Nicholas Phan and baritone Philip Cutlip. New this year was the establishment of a Young Collectors group and a special Young Collectors tour led by Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator Benjamin Simons and NHA supporter Sharon Lorenzo, as a way of introducing the next generation of antiques aficionados to the NHA’s August Antiques Show. The show serves as the single largest revenue source for the NHA’s yearly operating budget, and we are happy to report that this year’s show met its financial goals. The 35th August Antiques Show will run from July 31–August 6, 2012. For more information, please contact Stacey Stuart: (508) 228–1894, ext.130, or, or visit

CORRECTION The editor of the 2010 Annual Report regrets that in the list of donors to the Annual Fund Mr. and Mrs. V. Henry O’Neill’s gift was inadvertently omitted from the $1,000 to $4,999 level. The NHA gratefully acknowledges their generosity. Fall 2011 | 23

Warren Jagger

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Historic Nantucket Fall 2011  

Historic Nantucket is a publication of the Nantucket Historical Association. Themes as diverse as whaling, genealogy, and folk art are explo...