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. [] []

How a radio episode in Aberystwyth wetted my curiosity

Two weeks ago, at the 10th October on a Sunday afternoon, I took a Bus in Birmingham and travelled 4 hours to Wales, to Aberystwyth to be precise. Given that Aberystwyth is a small rural city with 18.000 inhabitants, and excluded from any motorway or any bigger cities or metropole areas in Wales, I was astonished of the vivid atmosphere, which shaped the city, even on a sunday night.

The city has an university and its 6000 enrolled students as well as the beautiful promenade along the coast definitely shape this city. To be honest: Aberystwyth belonged to one of those places of Wales, which I had never heard of. The cities of Cardiff, of Swansea, as well as the Snowdonia National Park, the welsh football team and dragons (!?) were the only things, which came me or my friends in mind, with whom I talked about Wales. Yet, what is much more known to me is that Wales, or rather Milford Haven, had a brief chapter of whaling industry too as this small collection of research articles demonstrate:

Allen, Richard C. (2010): Nantucket Quakers and the Milford Haven Whaling Industry, c. 1791-1821. In: Quaker Studies 15 (1), pp. 6-31.

Clayton, Jane (2007): Nantucket Whalers in Milford Haven, Wales. In: Historic Nantucket, A Publication of the Nantucket Historical Association 56 (1), pp. 4-7.

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.

McKay, K. (1989): A Vsion of Greatness, the history of Milford, 1790-1990, Pembrokeshire: Brace Harvatt Associates.

Thomas, Flora (1920): The Builders of Milford. Haverfordwest: The Pembrokeshire Telegraph.

National Library of Wales – private Picture – 12.10.2021.

Despite its small composition, the city of Aberystwyth is also centre of the National Library of Wales, which is the most important reason, which bring me to this rural place at the coast of Wales. I have spent here a week and pre-ordered manuscripts related to the Starbuck Quaker whaling family, who were known to have relocated to Milford Haven further southwards of Wales between roughly between 1795 and 1820.

The material, which I have found here date mostly later than 1830 up to 1870 and the marriage certificates and wills show that the descendants of this part of the Starbuck family remained in Wales and England after the arrival. Clayton could reconstruct at least fifteen Nantucket families, who settled across the Atlantic to Milford Haven.1 The settlement was

“led by the Starbucks and the Folgers. Samuel Starbuck Sr. [who] came with his wife, Abigail, and their two sons, Samuel Jr. [Starbuck] and Daniel [Starbuck], along with their families. Timothy Folger brought his wife, Abiel [Folger]; one daughter, Peggy, with her husband David Grieve; and their son, Timothy Jr., along with his family.

Others who came to settle included several ship captains: Zacchary Bunker and his wife, Judith, with some of their children; Elisha Clarke and his wife, Elizabeth, with their children; Barnabus Swain; James Gwinn; Peter Macy; Benjamin Folger; David Coleman; Jonathan Paddock; Nathaniel Macy; Uriel Bunker; and Frederick Coffin – with or without their families. Several returned to New England, while others remained in Britain for the rest of their lives.”

Jane Clayton (2007)

Due to Covid-restrictions, it was necessary to book a reading desk a few days before-hand for each day. Arriving at the front-desk of the National Library, remained very curious, as the security had already a “guest-list” of all individuals, who had booked a reading desk beforehand. Apart from manuscripts, I found numerous interesting articles and books, which kept my interest.

  • The very helpful library staff, furthermore, directed my attention to audio-visual sources too. They pointed me to a short video clip of 1947 entitled “Milford Haven”, which is online available here and is kindly provided by the British Film Institute and the National Sound and Screen Archive of Wales. The 14 minutes give an impression of a whaling settlement, and pictures the small city as “little America”.

Apart from written documents and video clips, the collection also holds two BBC radio episodes about the Quakers in Wales of the BBC show “Good evening Wales”. They were published 7th November 2000 and 14th November 2000, but the first part is not available anymore in the National Library’s collection. They were produced by Sunny Davis, Jimmy Davis and Collin Davis.

Listening to the second part, however, was very fascinating as it seems to be a documentation which contained many quotes of several prominent and local individuals, who were familiar with the whaling industry, such as the famous Nantucket-located author (1) Nathaniel Philbrick, (2) Richard Allen, who published extensively on Quaker whalers in Wales, and as well as (3) George Springer, who was the local curator of the Milford Haven Museum at that time.

Among the many quotes, I found one oral statement of a person called Duckburg (?) worth to transcribe, which I will quote here now. He refers to the role of Milford Haven as a whaling harbour for the Quaker whalers and there is the assumption that Milford Haven was only used as an entrance harbour to remain access for their whale oil to sell it duty-free into the british market in the late 18th century. The American Revolutionary wars of 1776 found the Quakers in Nantucket excluded from selling their whale oil to the British market, and Quaker whalers put high efforts to relocate and establish whaling settlements on places such as Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Dunkirk, London and Milford Haven. Duckburg, however, wonders about the strikingly short whaling voyages and the high whale oil casks of Milford Haven whaling ships at the same time.

“[Moderator voice:] But those greasy whaling voyages could be strangely short. Duckburg. [Duckburg voice:] Unlike those from Nantucket, they would return to port with a full load of a good oil onboard in a matter of just a couple of month instead of several years, and one wonders if perhaps some of the Nantucket vessels met with some of the Milford Haven vessels and exchanged cargoes along the way, thereby avoiding the very heavy duties in tariffs, that had been placed upon American Oil, pretty crude (?) move as quakers remained nobodies provved (?) move (?).”

BBC Radio Episode, 14.11.2000, minute: 13:50 onwards

This last quote opened me a wide range of further questions and demonstrate again the translocality and the social and economic connection of these Quaker whalers in the Atlantic world. I clearly need to analyse these entanglements more specifically.

  1. Clayton, Jane (2007): Nantucket Whalers in Milford Haven, Wales. In: Historic Nantucket, A Publication of the Nantucket Historical Association 56 (1), pp. 4-7 []
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