Can you ever go home again?, Part 11 of 13

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William Rotch returned to Nantucket in 1794, hoping to resume his business and his life on the island. Neither was possible. As whaling ships pushed into the Pacific Ocean, their design changed. Asked to go further, do more, and stay longer, these “space ships” needed to carry more people, more supplies, and more oil. As a result, ships grew larger and new drafts required deeper ports than Nantucket had to offer. Rotch knew his new fleet would have to anchor in New Bedford. What’s more, Rotch also had to face the fact that his fellow islanders had not forgiven him for abandoning Nantucket after

independence. As a result, Rotch decided to relocate his residence and his business to New Bedford, a move that sealed that port’s fate as the center of the “Golden Age of Whaling” and the richest town in America.

In a letter from Dunkirk, Rotch opened up to son-in-law Samuel Rodman, the sole family member remaining on Nantucket, about his prolonged separation from the island he loved.  He acknowledged “the Jaws of Calummy … opened wide against me after my departure,” but he pledged “to feel my heart diverted of resentment or wishing them ill, let them wallow in their own mire untill they are weary; banishment, confiscation or other punishment does not the least disturb my tranquility.” He continued “I am thankfull … we are removed of the reach of [these] inveterate enemies, even whither we are at home or abroad; they know I never fear’d them, which has been a sore mortification to some; after all they have done or can do…I have never missed serving that island when in my power, and am glad I am to feel at this moment the same disposition”1 William Rotch would never again live on Nantucket, though he and his wife would identify as islanders even in their death (she insisted “born in Nantucket” be inscribed on her grave). He had wandered the Atlantic for over a decade only to discover that, in fact, he could never go home again.

1 Letter dated Dunkirk 10 month 12, 1790 from William Rotch to Samuel Rodman may be found in Box 1, Folder 4 in the Rotch family collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Published as part of a series

  1. Before the Rockefellers, there were the Rotches
  2. For those who fail at business…there’s always politics
  3. The Tea Party: bad for business
  4. A different kind of sunken treasure
  5. The Falkland gambit
  6. “No step between being clear, and death”
  7. Patriotism…and false flags?
  8. America’s first trade war: bad for business
  9. You can run but you can’t hide (in France)
  10. Whaler, traitor, coward…spy?
  11. Can you ever go home again?
  12. Post-script: Jefferson’s accusations and Adams’s
  13. Adams’s revenge

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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