Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America
Eric Jay Dolin
A Los Angeles Times Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007
A Boston Globe Best Non-Fiction Book of 2007
Amazon.com Editors pick as one of the 10 best history books of 2007
Winner of the 2007 John Lyman Award for U. S. Maritime History, given by the North American Society for Oceanic History
"The best history of American whaling to come along in a generation." ―Nathaniel Philbrick
The epic history of the "iron men in wooden boats" who built an industrial empire through the pursuit of whales. "To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme," Herman Melville proclaimed, and this absorbing history demonstrates that few things can capture the sheer danger and desperation of men on the deep sea as dramatically as whaling. Eric Jay Dolin begins his vivid narrative with Captain John Smith's botched whaling expedition to the New World in 1614. He then chronicles the rise of a burgeoning industry―from its brutal struggles during the Revolutionary period to its golden age in the mid-1800s when a fleet of more than 700 ships hunted the seas and American whale oil lit the world, to its decline as the twentieth century dawned. This sweeping social and economic history provides rich and often fantastic accounts of the men themselves, who mutinied, murdered, rioted, deserted, drank, scrimshawed, and recorded their experiences in journals and memoirs. Containing a wealth of naturalistic detail on whales, Leviathan is the most original and stirring history of American whaling in many decades.
prisoners back to the States. When the captain of the General Pike wondered aloud how he was going to feed all these prisoners, along with his crew of thirty, during the long voyage back to San Francisco, Waddell told him he could “cook the Kanakas” or Hawaiians, since there were “plenty of them.”61 On June 27 the Shenandoah sighted yet another eleven whaleships in the distance. Waddell wanted to capture all of them, but caution was necessary. The wind had picked up, and if any of those vessels
Clearly men had been hunting sperm whales long before Hussey’s time. Indeed, Hussey can’t even claim to have been the first colonist to have thought, albeit not in a premeditated manner, about hunting sperm whales. In 1688, Timotheus Vanderuen, commander of the brigantine Happy Return, out of New York, petitioned Edmund Andros, the royal governor of the Dominion of New England, for “License and Permission” to take twelve whalemen “upon a fishing design about the Bohames Islands, And Cap florida,
warmth of it, thereby to deliver the fattest gum that comes out of it.”41 In 1685, it was proposed that ambergris was “nothing but the wax, mixt with the Honey, which falls into the Sea, and is beat about in the Waves, between the tropics.”42 And last, but not least, there was a very old theory of Chinese origin that supposed that ambergris was “spittle” coughed up by sea dragons.43 All these theories notwithstanding, it was getting harder and harder to escape the conclusion that ambergris did
Hancocks, both Thomas and John, were not the only merchants to lose money on whaling during this pre-Revolutionary era. But for all the losers there were as many or more winners. Numerous ship’s captains and whaling merchants had become wealthy men and pillars of their communities. Whale products were an increasingly important part of local and international commerce. Colonial whaleships had visited the farthest reaches of the Atlantic Ocean and were already eyeing sights even farther afield.
diplomatic responsibilities by issuing consular certificates to those whaleships whose papers had been destroyed by the enemy. Not all the whaleships rescued that day made it back to Nantucket; a significant number of them were subsequently captured by the British. Still, that didn’t diminish the impressiveness of Poinsett’s actions in the eyes of Nantucketers. An article in the Nantucket Inquirer in August 1824 noted that “the benefits which resulted to this island from the enterprise are