NEW BEDFORD

 

  MOBY DICK IS HERMAN MELVILLE'S CLASSIC NOVEL ABOUT CAPTAIN AHAB CHASING A GREAT WHITE WHALE

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New Bedford in 1867

 

New Bedford harbor 1867

 

 

 

New Bedford is a city in Bristol County, Massachusetts, United States. As of the 2010 census, the city had a total population of 95,072, making it the sixth-largest city in Massachusetts.

 

New Bedford is nicknamed "The Whaling City" because it was one of the world's most important whaling ports in the nineteenth century, along with Nantucket, Massachusetts, and New London, Connecticut. New Bedford, Fall River and Taunton are the three largest cities in the South Coast region of Massachusetts. The city is known for its fishing fleet and accompanying seafood industry, as well as for its high concentration of Portuguese Americans.

Nantucket had been the dominant whaling port, though the industry was controlled by a cartel of merchants in Boston, Newport, and Providence. In the 1760s, Nantucket's most prominent whaling families moved to New Bedford, refining their own oil and making their own premium candles.

The American Revolutionary War completely paralyzed the whaling industry. British forces blockaded American ports and captured or destroyed American commercial ships; they even marched down King's Street in New Bedford (defiantly renamed Union Street after the Revolution) and set businesses on fire.

Nantucket was even more exposed, and the physical destruction, frozen economy, and import taxes imposed after the war obliterated previous fortunes. New Bedford also had a deeper harbor and was located on the mainland. As a result, New Bedford supplanted Nantucket as the nation's preeminent whaling port, and so began the Golden Age of Whaling.

After the War of 1812's embargo was lifted, New Bedford started amassing a number of colossal, sturdy, square-rigged whaling ships, many of them built at the shipyard of Mattapoisett. The invention of on-board tryworks, a system of massive iron pots over a brick furnace, allowed the whalers to render high quality oil from the blubber. This allowed the whaling ships to go out to sea for as long as four years, processing their catch while at sea. Ships from New Bedford came back to port with barrels of oil, spermaceti, and occasionally ambergris.

 

 

New Bedford Museum, painting whaling boats launch

 

 

Whaling dominated New Bedford's economy for much of the century, and many families of the city were involved with it as crew and officers of ships. The Quakers remained prominent and influential in New Bedford throughout the whaling era. They brought religious values into their business models, promoting stability as well as prosperity, investing in infrastructure projects such as rail, and employing without discrimination. They established solid social and economic relationships with Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, integrating New Bedford into the urban northeastern economy.

Ten thousand men worked in the whaling industry. During this period, New Bedford's population increased from approximately 4,000 in 1820 to about 24,000 in 1860. At the height of the whaling industry in 1857, the harbor hosted 329 vessels worth over $12 million, and New Bedford became the richest city per capita in the world.

On March 18, 1847 the town of New Bedford officially became a city; Abraham Hathaway Howland was elected its first mayor.

The whaling industry went into decline after the 1859 discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania. Each decade since then saw a gradual decrease in whaling work, activity, and revenue. During the Civil War, the Confederacy engaged in commerce raiding with ships such as the Alabama, the Florida, and the Shenandoah, trying to attack the Yankee whaling industry and sabotage the US economy. Additionally, the US federal government bought several inactive whalers, filled them with stones, sand, and dirt, and towed them to Charleston, South Carolina where the Union Navy sank what became known as the Stone Fleet in an unsuccessful attempt to blockade the Confederate bay. Along with the poor business and low whale populations, this dealt a potent blow to a failing industry.

 

Despite the historical decline of fishing and whaling in New England, New Bedford continues to be a leading fishing port. In 2016, New Bedford was the highest-valued port in the nation, a title it has held for seventeen straight years. $327 million worth of seafood crossed its docks, making it more valuable than even the most productive Alaskan fishing ports. While volume is below other major ports, New Bedford retains is top position due largely to its scallop fishery.

Herman Melville is associated with New Bedford, with his 1851 novel Moby-Dick set in the city. The New Bedford Whaling Museum hosts an annual marathon reading of the whaling classic.

 

Captain Ahab, played by Gregory Peck in 1956

 

Gregory Peck gives an outstanding performance as Captain Ahab, the obsessed master of the Pequod, in the 1956 movie: Moby Dick.

 

 

A BIT OF HISTORY

 

Moby Dick is the story of a great white sperm whale that fought back at whalers who tried to harpoon him. The idea came to Herman Melville after he spent time on a commercial whaler, where stories abounded of the sinking of the Essex in 1821 and Mocha Dick, a giant sperm whale that sank around 20 ships, before being harpooned in 1838.

 

Moby Dick has inspired a great many adaptations, the same basic story finding its way into the making of four films and two television adaptations.

 

In addition there are many comics and illustrated volumes, adapted from the original, one of which is the emerging graphic novel version of a large humpback whale called Kulo Luna.

 

Kulo Luna is not as big as the whales depicted in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, but she has a diamond encrusted heart of gold, only attacking whaling ships that present a danger to herself or her friends.

 

 

 

 

Herman Melville was the author of what we'd now consider an illegal activity, the commercial hunting of whales for oil and meat.

 

 

 

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