Whaling: An Introduction & A Statement

We’re transitioning into the next three month subject in our series on 19th Century American Maritime. Whaling.

Realizing this can be a debatable subject, I thought it might be good to clarify why I’m choosing to write about it, explain my views, and detail the types of blog posts you’ll see in the coming weeks. I hope you find the history fascinating while, at the same time, realizing that it was harmful and dangerous maritime industry which is no longer practiced in modern America.

Why Write About Whaling?

It’s an important part of American history. The whaling industry – with all its challenges, triumphs, and faults – encompasses a lot of New England regional history, expanded American reach around the globe, and was part of the early 19th Century economy. Additionally, whaling ships offered respect and, to some degree, equality for ethnic groups not treated kindly in other trades and societies at the time. Religion and social classes evolved in the unique whaling culture too.

Yes, there are aspects of the industry that can be labelled dark, cruel, and irresponsible, but the whaling industry encompassed more than hunting whales. It created a unique culture of its own which is an important part in American Maritime History.

Understanding A Historical Perspective On Whaling

As with most pursuits that are re-thought and re-labelled in later centuries, whaling was considered a respectable trade during the 18th and 19th Centuries. The profits from whale oil and whale bone were enormous. The risks were also high – which drew men into the adventurous life.

Looking back with modern perspectives, we realize how destructive whaling was to the pods of whales. If accounts from the 19th Century are correct (and there’s no reason to suppose they aren’t), whales are still recovering from the pursuit and hunting.

However, it’s important to realize that in the 19th Century there wasn’t a revulsion against whaling. It was part of life, well-accepted in New England. It was the livelihood of many. It provided the oil for lamps. Right or wrong, it was a way of life.

Do I Advocate Whaling In the Modern Era?

Absolutely not. I want to be very clear on this. I do not support modern whaling.

The industry’s terrible destructiveness came from over hunting – and that historical fact saddens me.

I do think it’s important to understand what happened in the whaling industry and how it affected American history. There are certainly many lessons to be learned about conservation and society through the lens of American whaling.

What To Learn From The History

We won’t give away all the interesting facts tonight, but we’re hoping that you’ll be amazed and challenged by this unique history.

I want you to appreciate another aspect of 19th Century Maritime History. Be inspired to support wildlife conservation efforts (on land and sea). Learn about the courage, tenacity, and sheer force in a historical battle between man and animal where typically only one would survive the fight (and the whale wasn’t always the casualty).

What You’ll Find In The Coming Articles

We’ll set the stage in the coming weeks with brief (not too graphic) descriptions of 19th Century whaling process and talk about the purpose of the industry. Then we’ll delve into the fascinating social and ethnic aspects of the whaling fleets, trace the rise and decline of the great whaling towns, and follow the routes of the international voyages and how whalers were unofficial ambassadors and negotiators. Later, we’ll talk about the captains and crews, the actual ships, and the great legends in American whaling. And – of course – we’ll spend a day discussing the whales and considering what the industry did to the great pods of whales and how they have (or have not) recovered.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. I’m curious – have you read about the American whaling industry? Is it a topic you’re interested in from a historical and not too graphic perspective?

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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4 Responses to Whaling: An Introduction & A Statement

  1. M. T. Ayers says:

    Thank you for writing about the American whaling industry. It is a subject that I am most interested in. I look forward to reading your articles.

  2. Pingback: A Whaling Voyage | Gazette665

  3. Pingback: Whaling: Hunters & Hunted | Gazette665

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