Besides going whaling, what else did Nantucketers do?

Back on the island, the economy was centered on the whale fishery, with ropewalks, cooperages, black­smith and boatbuilding shops, ship chandleries, sail lofts, and warehouses. Supporting businesses such as seamen’s boarding houses, grog shops, clothing shops, purveyors of groceries and dry goods sprang up. When the whaleships came back to port, their precious cargo was sold at great profit to mainland refineries for use in domestic lamps and street lights and for myriad industrial uses. Candles made from the solid spermaceti wax derived from the head matter were the finest household illuminants yet known and were produced in enormous quantities on the island, accounting for some of the impressive fortunes amassed in the industry. The town was a bustling, vital, commercial center, the sleek vessels of the China trade bringing home porcelains and silks and exotic artifacts—items that found a ready market among the island’s prosperous families. For a century—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.”


Excerpt from “Nantucket in a Nutshell” by Elizabeth Oldham, Historic Nantucket, Winter 2000, Vol. 49. No. 1

The mission of the Nantucket Historical Association is to tell the inspiring stories of Nantucket through its collections, programs, and properties.

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