Sixteen-year-old David Whippey left Nantucket onboard the whale ship Hero in 1816 bound as an apprentice for seven years. But he ran away in Peru and never returned. By 1825, Whippey had landed on the Fiji Islands, where he planned to collect turtle shells and sandalwood to sell in China. But the captain who left him there didn’t come back for thirteen years.
Stranded in the South Pacific, Whippey decided to stay, learned Fijian and earned the local tribal chief’s trust. He eventually established Fiji’s first business and prospered building boats and acting as a local mediator to ships stopping at the islands.
Whippey met up with an old Nantucket playmate, William Cary, in Fiji. Cary was the sole survivor of a shipwreck there in 1825. Both participated in warfare with the natives, although probably not by their own choice. But they did not participate in the local tradition of cannibalism. Whippey’s willingness to assimilate the local customs (except cannibalism) is probably what kept the local tribes from killing him.
In time, a small band of white settlers established a community there with approval from the local chief. As he grew into his life, Whippey also became active in local politics and served as vice counsel to the United States from 1846 to 1856.
Whippey fathered eleven children with four partners, some of whom he married. Whippy died in October 1871 at the age of sixty-nine.
Excerpted from On This Day In Nantucket History
By Amy Jenness
The History Press
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