This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held in the Research Library at the Nantucket Historical Association. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in our reading room, and not digitally available through the internet.
Thomas Nickerson (1805-1883) sailed for the Pacific in 1819 on the whaleship Essex under Captain George Pollard. On 20 November 1820, the Essex was sunk by a whale, and Nickerson, with nineteen other men, took to three small open boats. After three months of harrowing experiences, he and two others in his boat were picked up by the Brig Indian. This collection is composed of narrative manuscripts and illustrations by Thomas Nickerson related to his experience aboard the whaleship Essex, which was sunk in the Pacific Ocean by a whale in 1821. Also included are Nickerson’s narratives of the wreck of the ship Two Brothers and its captain George Pollard, as well as correspondence with Leon Lewis regarding the publishing of his account. Two unattributed illustrations accompany Nickerson’s papers.
- Collection Number:
- Collection of Thomas Nickerson Material
- circa 1870
- Nickerson, Thomas, 1805-1883.
- Nantucket Historical Association
- Material is in English.
Information for Users
Restrictions to Access: No restrictions. Open for research.
Restrictions to Use: No usage restrictions.
Copyright Notice: Copyright is retained by the authors of items in this collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.
Preferred Citation: [identification of item], in the Collection of Thomas Nickerson Material, Nantucket Historical Association.
Nickerson account gift of Ann W. and James M. Finch (Acc. 1980.99).Sensitive Materials Statement:
Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations. Researchers are advised that the disclosure of certain information pertaining to identifiable living individuals represented in this collection without the consent of those individuals may have legal ramifications (e.g., a cause of action under common law for invasion of privacy may arise if facts concerning an individual’s private life are published that would be deemed highly offensive to a reasonable person) for which the Nantucket Historical Association assumes no responsibility.
- Twine made by Benjamin Lawrence (1914.15.1)
The loss of the ship Essex sunk by a whale and the ordeal of the crew in open boats / by Thomas Nickerson, Last of the Open Boat Survivors; Helen Winslow Chase and Edouard A. Stackpole, editors of original manuscript. (Nantucket : NHA, 1984) (Wh 639.28 N53L 1984)
The loss of the ship Essex, sunk by a whale / Thomas Nickerson... [et al.]. (London : Penguin, 2000) (Wh 910.9164 L881 2000)
- Nickerson, Thomas, 1805-1883.
- Lewis, Leon, 1833-1920.
- Pollard, George.
- Essex (Whale-ship)
- Two Brothers (Ship)
- Indian (Brig)
- Ship captains.
- Whalers (Persons)
- Shipwreck survival—Pacific Ocean.
Born in Harwich, Massachusetts, Thomas Nickerson (1805-1883) was brought to Nantucket in 1806, where he was raised by his grandfather, Captain Robert Gibson. In 1819, he sailed for the Pacific in the whaleship Essex under Captain George Pollard. On 20 November 1820, the Essex was sunk by a whale, and Nickerson, with nineteen other men, took to three small open boats. After three months of harrowing experiences, he and two others in his boat were picked up by the Brig Indian. He continued a career at sea, including serving as boatsteerer onboard Pollard’s final voyage of the Two Brothers, which wrecked in 1821. He sailed until the early 1870s, when he opened a rooming house on Nantucket. In 1876, he wrote an account of his experiences on the Essex and in the small boat for a free-lance writer, Leon Lewis. The account was not published until 1984, when it was brought to the attention of the Nantucket Historical Association. Nickerson died on 7 February 1883.
Scope and Content
The collection consists of manuscripts and illustrations concerning Nickerson’s retrospective narrative of the 1820 Essex disaster. A typed transcript of his account was made following the rediscovery of his notebook in the 1980s, with parts removed from the original text and relocated into appendices to improve narrative coherence in the published form.
Also included is Nickerson’s letter to potential publisher Leon Lewis, and his two accounts of Captain George Pollard and the wreck of the ship Two Brothers, in prose and poetry. Nickerson’s accounts are accompanied by several illustrations of the disaster and related locations: three by Nickerson (one in facsimile) and two by unknown artists.
Alternative Form of Material: Available online in PDF format.
Additional Descriptive Resources: Transcript of Nickerson’s account available as hard-copy and online in PDF format.
SV-106/1: Account of the sinking of the ship Essex, circa 1870.
Folder 1: Illustrations of the ship Essex, circa 1870.
Folder 2: Unattributed illustration and map, undated.
Folder 3: Accounts of George Pollard and the wreck of the ship Two Brothers, undated.
Folder 4: Correspondence with Leon Lewis, 1876.
- Separated Volume (SV-106/1)
Processed by NHA staff.
Reprocessed by Alex McGrath and Sara David, January 2020.
Finding aid created by Alex McGrath and Sara David, January 2020.