Milford Havens connections to Nantuckets whaling industry

In my last blogpost, I finished the text with a long self-transcribed quote, which I have drew out of a radio episode. The quote, however, was not the only fascinating information, which I received. I also learnt of the Milford Haven Museum by accident. I have linked you here the Facebook-page of the small museum.

Milford Haven was not necessarily on my archive research list but surely on my visiting list. Between 1795 and 1820, the small rural city in the far south west of Wales, with its 14.000 inhabitants, became the center of Quaker whaling families of Starbuck and the Folgers. The political and economic difficulties, which these Quaker whalers faced in their their temporarily places across the Atlantic Ocean consisting of 1) London, 2) in the British colony of Nova Scotia (today Canada), as well as in the 3) French city of Dunkirk led Quaker whalers to seek alternative harbours to continue their whaling activities. Eventually, they found in the persons of Lord Greville and William Hamilton two willing supporters of a whaling settlement at Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire.1

Greville and “Hamilton requested and gained permission from Parliament to build a town with docks, warehouses and a custom house on his land at Milford Haven.” Moreover, they convinced the Government in London “to subsidize the removal of the whalemen from North America to Britain, as part of their plan to encourage whaling from the home island.” 2 According to Follini, “Greville was the nephew of Sir William Hamilton who owned the manor of Hubberston, in Wales on the magnificent harbour of Milford Haven.” It was this Greville who “had a vision of developing the area as a whaling port.”2

Private Picture – 20.10.2021.

Having this historical background in mind, I used the opportunity to visit Milford Haven, the small rural city in the far south west of Wales. As soon as I heard of the Milford Haven Museum I contacted them via Facebook, which is the only way to come in touch with them. The small museum consists of 4 rooms on two floors and offers a beautiful collection of Milford Havens maritime heritage ranging from the 19th century until today. The most interesting part of their collection for me however, included among others a huge genealogical tree of Nantucket´s families. Talking with Sue Kenny, one of the volunteers, the genealogical tree has been was handed to them in the 20th century by a descendant of the Starbuck family. For the collection, they had enlarged the tree to 4×2 metres.

Milford Haven Museum – Private Picture, 20.10.2021.

The Genealogy of the Nantucket 18 (?) and Milford Haven Friends. – Private Picture, 20.10.2021.

In the same room, the collection provides also a laminated version of the Dairy of Abiel Foulger of the year 1807, which can be read by interested guests. According to its introduction, they seem to have copied the transcription from the collection of the Nantucket Historical Association.

Private Picture, 20.10.2021.

As you might remember from my last blogpost that Abiel Folger was not the only women as she belonged to a large group of Quaker families, who moved together to Milford Haven. Yet she seems to have had a good relationship to the Swain family.

In a dairy entry of 4th July, she writes that “we received letters from Abiel Sally & Alex Swain.”

Unfortunately, she does not mention, from where she received the letter, because during this period, the Quaker family members of the Swain appeard to live in Nantucket, Nova Scotia, Dunkirk, London and in Milford Haven too.

One of the Swain, Barnabus Swain to be precise, lived in Milford Haven with the other Quakers, but from November 1807 onwards Barnabus seem to have decided to move to London and did not visit them during Christmas. In the dairy entries of November/December, briefly after her 71st birthday, she begins to mentions the correspondences with him.

“26. [Nov.] Swain Capt E C & Sally Boon drank tea hear”

“27. [Nov.] this is my birthday 71 years old.”

“28. [Nov.] this morn we Recivd a letter from B Swain before we weak up in the morn”

“29. [Nov.] we recivd a letter from Swain he had gone to London”

“6. [Dec.] We have bin writing B Swain ouer”

“13. [Dec.] First day we recivd a letter from B. Swain & wrote him an answer”

“18. [Dec.] no letter from Swain we fear he is sick”

“21. [Dec.] we wrote to Swain in London”

“26. [Dec.] this Day had a letter from Swain Saying he could not come Down it was too much to bare”

“27. [Dec.] grieving not to see Swain Dind on Sausage Pye”

“29. [Dec.] Samuel [Does she mean Starbuck? I am not sure] Recivd a letter from B Swain whairing he lements not being able to see us I dont wonder”

What I also find fascinating, is that only by walking through the small city, I also found many traces of Milford’s connection to both, Quaker whaling families but also New England as the whaling center at that time such as signs in restaurants, restaurants names, or street names.

  1. Morton, Harry (1982): The Whale´s Wake. Dunedin NZ, p. 99. []
  2. Follini, Maida (2006): A Quaker Odyssey. The Migration of Quaker Whalers from Nantucket, Massachusetts to Dartmouth, Nova Scotia and Milford Haven, Wales. In: Canadian Quaker History Journal 71, pp. 1-21, p. 9. [] []

Author: Haureh Hussein

Haureh Hussein is Doctoral Researcher and Research Associate in the DFG research project ‘Family Business: Creating a “Maritime Contact Zone” in the Colonial Anglo-World, 1790–1840’ at the Trier University. He studied history and political science at Trier and at the Catholic University Leuven in Belgium. He can be contacted via his blog:

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