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. .
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 Bay, Long Island, New London, Rhode Island, Fall River, Salem, Dartmouth in Nova Scotia, as well as Nantucket and New Bedford.
For the period of the whaling industry between 1784 and 1928, Finley lists even over 75 different whaling ports along the North American coastlines. 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. 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 servitude or a complex system of “indebtedness”. The labour forces of the whaling industry, as Vickers revealed, consisted mainly of “hands from the Indian community” 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. 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” 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.´” 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.” The settlers arrived in the area of southern New England, which today form the States of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut.