In Melville’s Moby-Dick the character Pip’s principal function is to provide music for the crew of the doomed ship with his tambourine. Music shipboard has been commonly used as a distraction from fear and hysteria, as was the case when the Titanic was sinking in 1912.
An 1824 letter to a recruiter for whaling crew members specifies the requirement for a fiddler: “The owners of the Ship Peru wish thee to apply to Steward for six black men and one white man to go round Cape Horn. We wish of those that are not aged 26 or under, one of them must be a Fiddler”
When the passenger steamer Telegraph entered service between Nantucket and New Bedford in 1832, John, an African-American fiddler, was employed to distract passengers from anxiety about rough seas or the potential for catastrophic boiler explosion.