What did whaling had to do with New England’s colonization

The development of the whaling industry in New England and Nantucket had its origin in the wider colonization process of the American continent – and this also reflects the area’s heritage.1 .

From the 17th century onwards, many settler societies along the coast of New England were involved in the whaling industry as a natural extraction industry to varying degrees. Today there is research about the whaling history of various cities such as the Hudson Bay2, Long Island3, New London4, Rhode Island5, Fall River6, Salem7, Dartmouth in Nova Scotia8, as well as Nantucket9 and New Bedford.10

For the period of the whaling industry between 1784 and 1928, Finley lists even over 75 different whaling ports along the North American coastlines.11 Despite the high amount of whaling ports however, the economic power was still concentrated just on few ones. Nantucket belonged to the most famous and successful cities as their fleet amounted almost 70% of all ships cruising along the whale patterns in the Atlantic.

It were not only settlers, but mariners with background of Native American communities or from the African continent, which contributed crucially to the rise of thw whaling industry. Scholars like Karttunen, Nicholas, Shoemaker, Silverman and Vickers localize the whaling industry’s success to the important role of Colonial Others such as Native American communities and of people with roots from the African continent.12 According to research opinions, the arriving settler families, who took part in the whaling industry, grounded their economic success on the extraction of labour force via distinct practises such as indentured servitude13 or a complex system of “indebtedness”.14 The labour forces of the whaling industry, as Vickers revealed, consisted mainly of “hands from the Indian community”15 and from people with roots from the African continent.

Shoemaker reminds us that Native American communities kept a relationship to whales long before the contact with European actors.16 Even before the arrival of the Mayflower with its first Pilgrim and Dutch settlers in Cape Cod in 1619, Native American communities and sachems along the coast of New England were familiar with these seasonal movements and the processing of stranded whales. Shoemaker realizes that “Sachem held sovereign rights to whales that stranded in the shallows or on shore” and parts of the whale like “fins and flukes may have been considered delicacies or, more likely, may have had symbolic and ceremonial value”. The “political and legal practices” of sharing “pieces of stranded whales as gifts”17 seems to have been common in the area and similar observations have been done in neighbouring communties. Nantucket’s geographic position is also close to Cape Cod.

William Bradford was one of the passengers onboard the Mayflower and became the first colonial Governor of the then established Plymouth colony. Based on the accounts of him, Philbrick notes that they “were cutting the whale’s blubber into long strips when they saw the shallop approaching and fled, ´running to and fro, as if they had been carrying something.´”18 The Captain of the Mayflower, Christopher Jones, as Philbrick adds, was himself formerly active in the Greenland whaling industry, and while cruising close to New England’s coastline, he ”claimed that if only they’d had some harpoons and lances they might have taken between three thousand and four thousand pounds’ worth of whale oil and baleen.”19 The settlers arrived in the area of southern New England, which today form the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut20.


  1. Daley, Justin (2020): New England Whaling Heritage. The impact of Capitalism on Preservation and Public Interpretation. PhD Thesis. Flinders University, Adelaide. College of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences, https://flex.flinders.edu.au/file/7c97e563-7828-481c-aa62-3d2175890ab8/1/DaleyThesis2020.pdf , [last access: 10.02.2022] []
  2. Schram, Margaret (2004): Hudson’s Merchants and Whalers. The Rise and Fall of a River Port, 1783-1850. New York: Black Dome Press. []
  3. Strong, John (2018): America´s Early Whalemen. Indian Shore Whalers on Long Island, 1650-1750: University of Arizona Press. []
  4. Shoemaker, Nancy (2015): Native American Whalemen. Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race. Chapel Hill, North Carolina. []
  5. Sherman, Stuart (1965): The Voice of the Whaleman. With an Account of the Nicholson Whaling Collection. Providence RI. []
  6. Lund, Judith (2012): Fall River goes Whaling. In: Coriolis – Interdisciplinary Journal of Maritime Studies 3 (2), pp. 1-14. []
  7. Druett, Joan (2009): The Salem Connection. American Contacts with Early Colonial New Zealand. In: Journal of New Zealand Studies 8, pp. 169-194.; Medina, Isagani (1973): American Logbooks and Journals in Salem, Massachusetts on the Philippines 1796-1894. In: Asian Studies, Journal of Critical Perspectives on Asia 11 (1), pp. 177-198. []
  8. 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. []
  9. Stackpole, Edouard A. (1972): Whales and Destiny. The rivalry between America, France, and Britain for control of the southern whale fishery, 1785-1825. Amherst MA.; Vickers, Daniel (1983): The first Whalemen of Nantucket. In: The William and Mary Quarterly 40 (4), pp. 560-583; Vickers, Daniel (1985): Nantucket whalemen in the deep-sea fishery. The changing anatomy of an early American labor force. In: The Journal of American History 72 (2), pp. 277-296. []
  10. Gallman, Robert; Davis, Lance; Gleiter, Karin (1997): In Pursuit of Leviathan. Technology, Institutions, Productivity, and Profits in American Whaling, 1816-1906. Chicago: Chicago University Press.; Stackpole 1972 []
  11. Finley, Skip (2020): Whaling Captains of Colour. America´s first Meritocracy. Dulles VA: Naval Institute Press, pp. 235-237 []
  12. Karttunen, Frances (2005): The Other Islanders. People who pulled Nantucket’s oars. New Bedford: Spinner Publications, Inc.; Nicholas, Mark (2002): Mashpee Wampanoags of Cape Cod, the Whalefishery, and Seafaring’s Impact on Community Development. In: The American Indian Quarterly 26 (2), pp. 165-197.; Shoemaker 2014; 2015 ; Silverman, David (2001): The Impact of Indentured Servitude on the Society and culture of Southern New England Indians, 1680-1810. In: The New England Quarterly 74 (4), pp. 622-666.; Vickers 1983; 1985. []
  13. Salmond, Anne (1997): Between Worlds. Early Exchanges between Maori and Europeans 1773-1815. Auckland NZ: Penguin Books, p. 316. []
  14. Vickers 1983, p. 577 []
  15. Vickers 1983, p. 568 []
  16. Shoemaker, Nancy (2014): Living with whales. Documents and oral histories of Native New England whaling history. Amherst: University of Massachussetts Press.. []
  17. Shoemaker 2014, p. 32 []
  18. Philbrick, Nathaniel (2006): Mayflower. A story of courage, community, and war. New York: Penguin Group.. []
  19. Philbrick 2006, p. 57. []
  20. Karttunen 2002; Philbrick 2006; Salisbury, Neal (1984): Manitou and Providence. Indians, Europeans, and the Making of New England, 1500-1643. New York: Oxford University Press.; Zelner, Kyle (2009): A Rabble in Arms. Massachusetts Towns and Militiamen during King Philip’s War. New York: New York University Press; Bahar, Matthew (2019): Storm of the Sea. Indians & Empires in the Atlantic´s Age of Sail. Oxford: Oxford University Press. []

What my dissertation project would say about the year 2021 (2/2)

July to September 2021 – vacation, vaccination, and preparation

In July 2021, I planned to take some weeks free from work, free from writing, free from reading articles and take a break of constantly thinking of my research project. Apart from visiting friends, applying for an UK visa, I used also the opportunity to attend together with some other doctoral researchers a “Schreibwerkstatt”, kindly organized by PD Dr. Simon Karstens from Trier University. Within two very intensive and productive days, we talked, discussed and analyzed text passages, the working environments as well as useful tools and skills to write and to structure the work in long-term projects.

I used the first weeks of August to organize the last aspects of my archive stay in the UK and to book the places in Birmingham, Aberystwyth, Haverfordwest and London. The August marked also the beginning of this research blog and one of my first intentions was to devote at least one blog article to each archive.

By the late August I eventually moved to London and Birmingham and quickly began to read the first manusripts of the Cadbury Research Library in Birmingham in the first weeks of September. The Missionary manuscripts turned out to be very productuve and helpful from the very beginning. In Birmingham, I also contacted some staff members of the Department of History at the Birmingham University and so came in touch with Dr. Tom Cutterham. We had a great conversation and agreed to stay in touch in the future.

October to December 2021 – conferences, conferences, conferences

The preparation of conference presentations as well as archive researches in Aberystwyth, Haverfordwest, Milford Haven and London shaped the last quartal of 2021. At the first of October, I had the opportunity to introduce my topic to the audience of the Australian Seascapes Conference of the “Gesellschaft für Australienstudien“, which took place virtually via Zoom between 30th Sept. and 2nd Oct. 2021.

In the last week of November then between 23rd and 26th Nov. 2021, the New Zealand Historical Association came virtually together under the conference title “Ako: Learning from History“. I was delighted and very thankful to have had the possibility to present my research project in front of a Aotearoa/ New Zealand audience.

The last presentation, which I had in 2021 was in mid of Dec. 2021 to the GHI London Colloquium, where I have shown the first results of findings during the time in the UK. Being back in Germany now, I have used the christmas days to take a break and look forward to beginning the new year of 2022 with new motivation and to read the archive material, which I have collected and gathered.

My archive adventure in Haverfordwest – and why it needs to be continued

Academic research is never a linear, clear and straight-forwarded process, as it seems to look like in CVs. It requires or leds often to decisions, thinking, overthinking, neglection, the (over-)emphasis or the overlooking of aspects and research questions, approaches and methods.

My research stay in the Pembrokeshire Records Office demonstrated me, that sometimes, just small hand-written notes can point to further, bigger, sources and manuscripts than one might expect, but lets start from the beginning.

What did happen?

The third stopover of my research stay (20.-22. Oct. 2021) brought me to Haverfordwest to the Pembrokeshire Record Office. The city of Haverfordwest is at the very western part of Wales and very small. And calm. Very calm to be precise. Ironically, one of the few life-signs of the city was the long queue of old people waiting for their Covid Booster vaccinations at the entrance of the Pembrokeshire Record Office.

A very brief and vague online catalogue entry titled “GB 213 D/BT – Records of the Starbuck family of Nantucket Island and Milford Haven” [c. 1660]-1954, brought me to this little public office. I arrived with no expectations and did not expect to encounter a treasure.

In this box, i found a finding aid of no less than 69 different manuscripts, properly ordered and explained, relating to the Starbuck family with documents dating back as early as the 1660s, which list the names of the first 10 settlers and each of their partners in Nantucket. Among the material in the box, there were also several epistles of Quaker meetings held in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

Later on, the archive staff kindly pointed me also to a transcribed online finding aid, that exists on their homepage. I stayed only for several days, because the archive had only open Thursdays and Fridays. In these two days, I was busy with picturing every manuscript and book, which I had found beforehand, and I did not saw the time to actually read or go through the material.

The race against the short opening times of Archives, in particular in rural and far-away places, is an experience, which my supervisor Eva Bischoff had always kept telling me: “You always find the most interesting things at the very last moment close to the closing hours”.

Until last week, I claimed for myself not to face such situations and always thought: “This will not happen to me, I will search the archive database properly and clearly and nothing then will be left”.

Well, so far, so naive. I had taken a pictures of the detailed finding aid, and I might have been blended by the dark-censored lines, or while taking pictures, I automatically focussed on the terms “Land” and “NANTUCKET ISLAND”, which draw my very attention. Having my research questions in mind, this might be totally reasonable, you might argue. What else could be important here, you might wonder.

This short notice here: “See also HDX/1018”

Finding aid: DB/T Starbuck Papers: Private Picture, 21.10.2021

I realized this, when I went through the picture again, and when i checked the reference. “Ah, yeah, this surely, cannot be that important”, but you never know, better double checked than regretting once. So, i used the database, which the archive staff had introduced me.

And yees, it was important. I have barely experienced such an importance and urgency of any sources during my research stay in UK here (ok, I admitt thats exaggeration.) The refence’s name titled: HDX/1018 – Deeds and Documents from the Milford Haven Town sounds very promising and includes even more promising Dokuments.

And guess what: by checking the reference signature and by using further keywords such as Milford Haven etc., further material came across, which was invisible before.

HDX/250/1 – Copy of the genealogy of the Nantucket and Milford Quaker families

HDX/250/2 – Copy of the diary of Abial Colmen Folger, wife of Timothy Folger

HDX/380/1 – Description of Milford Haven in thr 19th century

HDX/380/4 – draft pedigree of the Starbuck family of Milford Haven

HDX/380/5 – Manuscript history of the Starbuck family

HDX/380/9 – General Notes on Milford Haven

HDX/380/13 – Notes on Milford Haven

HDX/486/1-4 – Historic Nantucket Journals

HDX/1726/2 – Notes from the diary of Thomas Clarkson, anti-slavery campaigner, who visited Pembrokeshire in 1824

HDX/1929/1 – Lease book for the Milford Haven Estate, relating to leases dated 1801-1881

Long story, short: I will travel wednesday to Haverfordwest again, and will have Thursday and Friday time to read the listed manusripts here and by writing these lines, i realize now that one of my biggest issues will be the race against the time.

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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