The Essex and Its Legacy

In November 1820, an enraged sperm whale rammed and sank the Nantucket whaleship Essex in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 1,300 miles from the nearest land.  Twenty sailors survived the attack and quickly outfitted their three small whaleboats to make a journey to safety.  They had limited food and water, and could only hope that their supplies would last them as they slowly sailed for land across miles of open water.

Three months later, five emaciated survivors were picked up by passing ships, three more remained stranded on a deserted island, and twelve men were dead- seven of them eaten in desperation by their starving shipmates.  Their tale of choices, survival, and leadership would stun the maritime community, eventually serving as part of the inspiration for Moby-Dick.

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View the guide to the collection of Thomas Nickerson Material, circa 1870

Shop For books about The Essex

Banner image by Essex seaman and survivor, Thomas Nickerson (1805–83), pencil drawing from his first-hand manuscript diary of the Essex disaster, 1876. MS106 F1

Historic Nantucket Fall 2014

Historic Nantucket

America, Whaling & The World, Fall 2010 Featuring articles by Ben Simons, Kelly Gleason, Ph. D. and Jason T. Raupp,...More Read more from Historic Nantucket


Recordings of presentations and lectures discussing the EssexMore Read more from Videos


View the Essex exhibitions More Read more from Exhibits

Watercolor "Moby Dick and Ahab " by Claus Hoie

Melville and Moby Dick

Search the collection for more to learn more about Herman Melville Shop for Moby Dick

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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