May 21, 1913

In 1913, Nantucket’s last living whaling master, Thaddeus C. Defriez, “dropped anchor at the ripe age of 90 years and 7 months,” according to an obituary in the Inquirer & Mirror. Defriez first sailed in 1840 as a cooper on a Nantucket ship that left from Edgartown because it couldn’t get past the sand bar at the entrance to the harbor. His next trip, he worked as boat steerer on a voyage that went to the northwest coast. He was promoted to first mate when the ailing captain left the ship. In 1852, he was given command of the Richard Mitchell and set off for the Arctic Ocean to hunt bowhead whales. The Richard Mitchell came back mostly empty, but Defriez was given another ship in 1858, the Sacramento out of Westport, which had better success.

Returning home in June of 1863, Defriez was aware of privateers destroying ships loyal to America and skillfully used a heavy fog to bring his ship home. It would be his last whaling trip.

On Nantucket, Defriez was an agent for the Nantucket Fishing Company and in 1868 was to asked fill in as register of the probate court. Later, he became the Collector of Customs for Nantucket, a position he held until 1873 when he resigned to become Judge of the probate court. He served as judge until 1908 when he retired. In retirement, he was a notary public and treasurer for the Prospect Hill Cemetery Association.


Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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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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