John Stobart – Nantucket: The Celebrated Whaling Port in 1835

Rotarian and Kurtz & Company Realtor, Ted Olson, gave an engaging presentation about the whaling industry in the 18th centery. He distributed a handout on Nantucket and New Bedford Whaling and used PowerPoint pictures of Nantucket, whaling ships, the Nantucket harbor and light house, cobblestone roads, brick sidewalks and various sea captain’s houses in Nantucket. He shared photographs taken during a trip to Cape Cod last September.

Nantucket is 30 miles off the coast, way off shore. Nantucket joined the trade in 1690 when men in huts stood watch for right whales. They would row out, harpoon the whale, tow it to shore and cook the blubber in trypots to obtain the oil. The oil was used for illumination in oil lamps and for lubrication of machines.

By 1800 as the number of right and humpback whales declined, sperm whales were hunted in larger ships that sailed the world. 10,000 seamen manned the ships and more than 3,000 were African American.

Vast fortunes were made and the cultural influence is shown by former whaler Herman Melville’s novel Moby-Dick about a hunt for a great white whale. Ships loaded with oil sailed to Europe, discharged their cargo, loaded cobble stone and bricks and sailed home.

On top of the sea captain’s houses were widows walks where wives could look out for the return of their husbands.

Today Nantucket Island is a fashionable summer resort. The population increases from 12,000 to 50,000. It’s a place of tee shirt shops and trendy boutiques, picture perfect beaches. After lower cost kerosene came on the market, the market for whale oil collapsed.

Many of the large brick houses with sea shell driveways on Nantucket exist today as they were because there was no money to renovate or change them.