Private Signal Flags
of Nantucket Whaling Ships

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Presentedis an interesting print by R. R. Newell, dated 1970, showing the private signal flags of Nantucket Whaling merchants. The names mentioned include Macy, Barrett, Upton, Mitchell, Folger, Hussey, Crosby, Adams, Coffin, Jones, Shaw, Joy, and Field & Sanford. There are multiple signals for some names that were obviously prominent whaling families dating from the early 1700 to mid 1800s.

>Some interesting Nantucket whaling history

Quakers first moved to Nantucket and the New England shores in the 1650s to avoid persecution in England. The Religious Society of Friends came to dominate life on the island. Many of Nantucket’s first families – Macy, Starbuck, Coffin, Hussey, Folger, Rotch – became pre-eminent in the whaling industry. Whaling was expanding and many Nantucket Quakers were employed in it.

Quaker beliefs and tolerant labour practices made both Nantucket and New Bedford welcoming to all comers. Many black sailors, among them escaped slaves, found work on the whale ships, some even as ships’ captains. Quaker abolitionist
Lucretia Mott, daughter of Thomas Coffin and Anne Folger, was born on Nantucket in 1793. It could be said that the first black freedom movement began in a Quaker whale town.

So lucrative was the trade in sperm whale oil that by 1790 Nantucket Quakers reported to the Yearly Meeting that ‘there were no poor people on the island’. By the 1830’s the value of whale products on Nantucket alone exceeded $1 million and this was well below that of New Bedford.

During the 1840s Nantucket began to lose its place at the forefront of whaling. A disastrous fire in 1846, coupled with disputes between various Quaker factions on the island, led to the demise of the industry there. By 1850 Nantucket whaling was no more. The arrival of the railroad in New Bedford had driven the last nail in the coffin of Nantucket as a centre for whaling and New Bedford became the ‘city that lit the world’ with its whale oil.

Maritime and nautical folk art is always in demand and very collectible. This will make a very pleasant nautical touch to almost any decor.

Maritime and nautical folk art is always in demand and very collectible. This will make a very pleasant nautical touch to almost any decor.

Diameter: 20” x 16” x 3/4”
Weight: 28 lbs. 6 oz.

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