Moby-Dick: The Truth Behind The Legend

“Call me Ishmael.” It’s the opening line of a novel about the whaling industry, about revenge, and about redemption.

If you’re interested in the 19th Century American whaling industry, love classic American literature, or believe you were tortured in your high-school literature class, you’ve probably read Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. The novel has certainly shaped American views of whaling in the 1800’s. And if you’ve read, perhaps you’ve wondered: could it be true?

Today we’re wrapping up our three month examination of American whaling (moving on to lighthouses in July!) and we’re revealing some historical facts about this Melville novel, ┬áthe real account that inspired the story, and a recommendation for your summer reading list. Continue reading

A Whaling Voyage

We’re launching into our blog feature on American whaling during the 19th Century. (Catch the introduction here, if you missed it!) And it seems the best place to begin is at the beginning of a voyage.

Whale hunting was an industry – a business – in 19th Century America. Ship owners intended to make a profit on the whale oil brought home. However, sending a whale ship to sea was a risky venture. Unlike a merchant ship that would sail quietly along, ideally weathering the storms, and (hopefully) return with a profitable cargo and no lives lost, a whale ship was like a battleship.

Sending a whaling ship to sea was almost a game of chance or like betting on a gladiatorial combat. The captain, crew, and sometimes the ship itself would fight the largest known animals on the planet. It would be a struggle for life and death between two foes – one, massive and powerful, the other, armed with small, deadly metal implements and long, long ropes.

Today’s blog post focuses on getting a whale ship to sea and its voyage to the hunting grounds. Though I’m certainly thankful that whaling isn’t a common practice anymore, it was a fascinating chapter in American maritime and business. Continue reading