NANTUCKET, MA – The Nantucket Historical Association (NHA) is pleased to announce it is the recipient of another generous gift from the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association. The gift is a rare engraving of the Folger-Franklin chart of the Gulf Stream, which is the first true chart of the Gulf Stream commissioned by Benjamin Franklin and engraved by Le Rouge in Paris in 1782. The map will be available for public viewing in February 2019, when the Whaling Museum is free to island residents.
Benjamin Franklin had a particular interest in the Gulf Stream and began studying the natural phenomenon in 1768. After observing that westward crossings in the Atlantic were taking nearly twice the amount of time as the return home, he knew it was the result of a current. Franklin furthered his study with the help of his cousin Timothy Folger, a Nantucket sea captain, who used his own experiences to compose a chart showing the location of the Gulf Stream.
In an article published by the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia in 1786, Franklin wrote, “The Nantucket whalemen, being extremely well acquainted with the Gulf Stream, its course, strength, and extent, by their constant practice of whaling on the edges of it, from their Island quite down to the Bahamas,” illustrates just how well acquainted Nantucket sea captains were with the current and how it influenced their navigation while out at sea.
The NHA is thrilled to add this important artifact to the collection and further tell the stories that affected navigation of Nantucket whalers, while intertwining the connection Benjamin Franklin had to the island. “The chart is important for what it reveals about the deep environmental knowledge held by 18th century Nantucket mariners”, says Michael Harrison, NHA Obed Macy Director of Research & Collections. “Nantucket captains understood and used the Gulf Stream in their work in the Atlantic, and Benjamin Franklin, through his family connections to the island, was able to tap into this knowledge and get it disseminated, through this chart and other versions, for the benefit of mariners.”
Support from the Friends of the Nantucket Historical Association, has enabled the NHA to acquire numerous artifacts, works of art, and documents, and to ensure that such objects stay on or return to Nantucket to be enjoyed by the people of the island. The organization has also supported such projects as the construction of the Gosnold Center; the conservation of artifacts; and the restoration of the parlors in the Hadwen House.