The sign carries the names of the ships Dartmouth, Beaver, and Bedford. In years past, the sign read Dartmouth, Beaver, and Eleanor. These were the three ships from which tea was dumped into Boston Harbor during the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Only the Dartmouth and the Beaver belonged to ship owner and whale oil merchant William Rotch.
In 1772, just a year before the Tea Party, Rotch had opened the Main Street building as his Nantucket headquarters. The Dartmouth and the Beaver had cleared from Nantucket carrying whale oil to England and returned with the ill-fated tea.
The Bedford, another of Rotch’s ships, played a different role in the history of the young United States of America. She was the first ship to raise the Stars and Stripes in British waters after the American Revolution. In fact, she did so on February 3, 1783, more than a month before the end of the war was declared.
William Rotch was born on Nantucket in 1734. His father, Joseph Rotch, had moved from Salem, Massachusetts, to Nantucket, joined the Religious Society of Friends, and prospered as a major dealer in whale oil. Eventually Joseph moved to New Bedford to take part in establishing that city as a mainland whaling port. William, Joseph’s eldest son, remained on Nantucket to manage the family business.
The Rotches lived, spoke, and dressed plainly according to Quaker principles while amassing a vast fortune. At one time father and son were in control of a quarter of Nantucket’s whaling fleet and an even greater percentage of the whale oil that supported the island’s economy.
To learn more about the Rotches, the Boston Tea Party, and the Pacific Club, see Frances Karttunen’s book, Nantucket Places and People 1: Main Street to the North Shore, available from the NHA Museum Shop.