Whaling

Illustration from the log of the Ship Washington, kept by Captain James G. Coffin, 1842-1844.From the late 1600s—when Nantucketers first gleaned the prized oil from small whales that washed ashore—into the next two centuries —when Nantucket whaleships would tra­verse the oceans of the world on their legendary three-, four-, and five-year voyages in search of “greasy luck”—the pursuit of whales and their lucrative by-products became the primary business of Nantucket and the basis of its economy. From the mid-1700s to the late 1830s, Nantucket was the whaling capital of the world. As Melville wrote in Moby-Dick: “Thus have these . . . Nantucketers overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders.” This topic explores this wide and varied subject of Nantucket whaling from then until now.


The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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