Britain’s Yankee Whaling Town

The curious story of Milford Haven

Milford Haven is the name of both a town and a natural harbor set in the rolling hills of southern Wales some 250 miles west of London. Once famous for its trawling fleet, it is now a major terminal for supertankers bringing crude oil from the Persian Gulf. Read more »

The Unexpected Artistry Of A New England Shipmaster

The richly embellished account book of an eighteenth-century sea captain, newly discovered in a Maine attic

IN JUNE OF 1976 THE MAINE MARITIME Museum in Bath received a letter addressed simply to “The Curator.” It was from two local women named Carrie Groves and Gladys Castner and described some nautical material including a “large color drawing of a ship” that the two women felt belonged in a museum. Museums, of course, receive hundreds of such offers every year, and in the overwhelming majority of cases the material turns out to be of no particular value. Read more »

The Essex Disaster

She was the first whaleship ever sunk by her prey. But that’s not why she’s remembered.

FOR THE WHALING MEN OF NANTUCKET , the year 1819 looked to be an especially promising one. The island’s famed whaling fleet, ravaged by the 1812 war, now numbered sixty-one stout vessels, and fresh fishing grounds had just been discovered in the equatorial waters of the central Pacific. The new grounds lay 17,000 sailing miles away in ill-charted seas, but Nantucketers routinely made voyages whose immense length only a handfulof great explorers could match.Read more »

Day By Day in a Colonial Town

How Hadley, Massachusetts, (incorporated 1661) coped with wolves, drunks, Indians, witches, and the laws of God and man.

DURING THE FIRST half of the nineteenth century, there lived in the Connecticut River valley of Massachusetts a scholar and country editor with an insatiable curiosity about the region in which he lived. His name was Sylvester Judd, and his work, except for one posthumous and locally printed history of the nearby village of Hadley, Massachusetts, is practically unknown.Read more »

The Best Background

When it comes to genealogical pride, there’s nothing to equal the modest satisfaction of a slightly threadbare, socially impregnable New Englander. A canny guide to the subtle distinctions of America’s most rarefied society.

New England snobbism is based on a regional reverence for that which is old. And as John Gould once wrote, “It takes considerable art to be snobbish without appearing so.” Thus the perfection of a devastating little sign you will see as you enter or leave the old shipbuilding town of Thomaston, Maine. It reads, “Thomaston, 1605.” Read more »

The Pumpkin Paper

A vicious attack on a holiday favorite

When Sir Walter Raleigh’s men set foot on Roanoke Island in 1585 they found the Indians growing a vegetable named “Macócqwer … called by us Pompions … and very good.” It was also very plentiful, and by the seventeenth century colonists were reciting a bit of doggerel that reflected their indebtedness to—if not their delight in—the ubiquitous squash: “We have pumpkins at morning./Pumpkins at noon./If it were not for pumpkins/We should be undoon.” Read more »

“God…would Destroy Them, And Give Their Country To Another People…”

The mysterious diseases that nearly wiped out the Indians of New England were the work of the Christian God-or so both Pilgrims and Indians believed

In December of 1620, a group of English dissenters who “knew they were pilgrimes,” in the words of William Bradford, stepped ashore on the southern coast of Massachusetts at the site of the Wampanoag Indian village of Pawtuxet. The village was empty, abandoned long enough for the grasses and weeds to have taken over the cornfields, but not long enough for the trees to have returned. The Pilgrims occupied the lonely place and called it Plymouth. Read more »

The Adventures Of A Haunted Whaling Man

The exacting, colorful, and often perilous career of a whaleman of the last century is known to most readers only through such fiction a Moby Dick . But many a real American went “down to the sea in ships” from East Coast whaling ports, experiencing the loneliness, exhilaration, and dangers that Herman Melville described. One of them was Robert Weir, a tormented nineteen-year-old, who in the summer of 1855 left his home in Cold Spring, New York, where he had worked in the local iron foundry.Read more »

Who Invented Scalping?

Americans have always assumed that scalping and Indians were synonymous. Cutting the crown of hair from a fallen adversary has traditionally been viewed as an ancient Indian custom, performed to obtain tangible proof of the warrior’s valor. But in recent years many voices—Indian and white—have seriously questioned whether the Indians did in fact invent scalping. The latest suggestion is that the white colonists, in establishing bounties for enemy hair, introduced scalping to Indian allies innocent of the practice. Read more »

The Colossus Of His Kind: Jumbo

Pried loose from a furious Great Britain to meet a tragic death in the New World, this huge elephant made a fortune for his owner, delighted millions, and added a new superlative to our language

It is a warm summer evening in 1882, in a small town in New England, and the circus of Messrs. Barnum, Bailey, and Hutchinson has come to town for a one-day stand. The “Greatest Show on Earth ” is suitably canopied : three huge tents in a meadow on the outskirts of town—one tent each for the museum and the freak collections, and the big one, the one with four rings that seats thirty thousand people, towers in the middle.Read more »