Thursday, July 30, 2015

Heroic Indians in Fact and Fiction

I'm reading the Kindle version of Native American Whalemen and the World by UConn historian Nancy Shoemaker. It's good to learn about the real and important presence of Indians in the whaling industry. The book introduces and analyzes a staggering number of primary sources like whaling journals and logbooks. Also published narratives of whaling. Most of these sources are new to me, so I'm delighted to know more about them and grateful to the author for her work of investigating them.

Regarding the book I did know something about: Moby-Dick receives what might be called obligatory mentions, delivered with a sigh. As historian, more interested in facts than fiction, Professor Shoemaker has little professional use for Moby-Dick, notwithstanding Melville's heroic Indian harpooneer, Tashtego, and the illustrious name Melville gave to the fated whaleship, Pequod:
"Moby-Dick is full of this sort of typical New England romanticism about Indians...."
--Nancy Shoemaker, interview with Andrew Epstein at 11:08; also at UConn Today
Native American Whalemen incorporates much of Shoemaker's earlier article in Journal of the American Republic, the point of which was that unlike Melville's stereotypical noble savage, real-life Tashtegos on American whaleships were frequently mates and boatseerers (official job title of Melville's "harpooneers"). Their professional status entitled real-life Tashtegos to be addressed respectfully as "Mr."

And so we're busted. No denying it, Moby-Dick is full of romanticism--about pretty much everything, and strongly influenced by European (not only American) models in Goethe and Byron and Mary Shelley. Fair enough, but it's depressing to encounter romantic as a kind of code word for "bad" (if not "despicably evil") and "worthless." Reminds me in that regard of Cynthia Wachtell's reading of dreadful glory in Melville's Civil War poem, "Inscription for the Slain at Fredericksburgh."

From the start, Professor Shoemaker's enterprise involves a problem of methodology which she acknowledges with admirable candor:
"The absence of a racial category on crew lists has confounded historians investigating race in maritime history."
Yes! Especially when the subjects of their study do not fit neatly into one "racial category" or box. Sure, Melville's "token New England Indian" (as Professor Shoemaker calls Tashtego, p. 37) is a romantic fiction. Back in the real world of nineteenth-century whaling, your Indian whaleman might well be a respected officer, "Mr. Tashtego." And he might also be African-American. Joel G. Jared, the first named of Professor Shoemaker's exemplary Gay Head Indians, was identified as Negro (offensively, using the common slur) in documentary evidence that she defers to chapter 3 on "The Primacy of Rank." Looking online, I see Jared is described as "malatto" in one 1856 Crew List of the Anaconda.

The discussion in chapter 2 on "Race, Nationality, and Gender" works surprisingly hard to define people by race. Varying contemporary identifications of Haskins men as "mulatto," "black," and "Indian" are cited as signs of uncertainty if not incompetence rather than eyewitness evidence:
"Samuel Haskins's own identity was probably not this quixotic." --Native American Whalemen and the World, chapter 2
Really? I wonder what "identity" here even means. Racial identity, it sounds like, but then why not say so. Whatever "identity" means, maybe it is that quixotic, after all. Quixotic to scholars examining racial categories, for a start, since Martha S. Putney names the brothers Amos and Samuel Haskins in her groundbreaking roll of Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War.

As if he wanted to make matters more quixotic, Amos Haskins went and married Elizabeth P. Farmer (1824-90)
"the African American daughter of the widow Dianna Farmer, who had lived in New Bedford at least as early as 1826"  --New Bedford Historical Society, Inc.
Let me see if there's anything about Amos Haskins's wife in Native American Whalemen and the World. Yes, though no mention of her being African American which is fine by me but odd in a book fixated on "the Contingency of Race" (as the subtitle has it). One Samuel Haskins of Gay Head we can glimpse for ourselves, thanks to the miracles of Google and Facebook. This Samuel Haskins is reportedly the son of Amos Haskins, according to information provided by Edith Andrews as summarized in the January 2000 Faces of Whaling Oral History Project by the National Parks Service.

Samuel J. Haskins was publicly honored with other Gay Head whalemen for heroic actions during a notable maritime disaster, the 1884 wreck of the City of Columbus at Devil's Bridge.
At about nine o'clock a life-boat was successfully launched by a crew of Gay Head Indians, consisting of Joseph Peters captain, Samuel Haskins, Samuel Anthony, James Cooper, Moses Cooper, and John Vanderhoop. After battling an hour they were able to bring seven men ashore rescued from the rigging. A second crew manned it, all Indians, except the captain, James T. Mosher. They were Leonard L. Vanderhoop, Thomas C. Jeffers, Patrick Divine, Charles Grimes, and Peter Johnson. They had rescued thirteen men when the U. S. Revenue Cutter Dexter arrived to render assistance, having been called to the scene by telegraphic messages.  --Charles Edward Banks, History of Martha's Vineyard
More recently, local historian Thomas Dresser also has published a vivid chronicle of the 1884 shipwreck in his eleventh book, Disaster Off Martha's Vineyard. Pictures of both rescue crews and boats may be found on Facebook. Here's the one showing a "Samuel Haskins" in the first life-boat, second man from the left (according to the caption at Facebook which may be wrong):
Left to Right [or the reverse, Right to Left?]:
 Joseph Peters, Samuel Haskins, Samuel Anthony,
James Cooper, Moses Cooper, John Vanderhoop — 
Photo Credit: Martha's Vineyard Antique Photos via Facebook

Later (8/01/2015): Thomas Dresser reproduces a wonderful group photo showing "Sam Haskins" (bearded?) with other Gay Head heroes, on page 116 of Disaster Off Martha's Vineyard. The "Samuel Haskins" in the Facebook photo above looks more like the man "Tom Cooper" in Dresser's group photograph. Same hat! And the man shown standing in the photo above is the same man identified in Dresser's photo as "Joe Peters." Yes it looks like the intended order of the given names must be Right to Left, making Samuel Haskins the second man from the right--bearded like "Sam Haskins" in Dresser's photograph.

The men of both crews were identified by name and commended as "Gallant Rescuers... all native Indians of Gay Head" in the New York Herald (Monday, January 21, 1884). The Massachusetts Humane Society honored each man with a silver medal and $25.00 award. A similar notice in the rival New York Tribune employed more condescending language (and puzzling, as in the unexplained term "Narves."). It's complicated all right. Spite of the woeful stereotypes, the newspaper's praise for "the heroic islanders" of Gay Head feels real and heartfelt:

New York Tribune (January 21, 1884)

In The Story of Martha's Vineyard, Charles Gilbert Hine reproduces a photo of the medal received by courageous lifesavers:

As related at website of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, these medals of honor awarded by the Massachusetts Humane Society
"are proudly passed down through the generations from one family member to another."
I don't yet know what happened to Joel G. Jared, but his Gay Head wife Rosanna also figures in the story of the Columbus shipwreck.  Rosanna later married "seaman and farmer" Abram Rodman, identified as "Black" (not "Mulatto" and not "Indian") in the 1880 census. Rosanna Gershom Rodman (the former Rosanna Gershom Jared, born Rosanna Gershom David on April 25, 1839) won public notice during the disaster as one of the island heroes. With other women of Gay Head, Mrs. Rodman (by then a widow, evidently) received $5.00 and a certificate from the Massachusetts Humane Society
"for noble and humane exertions on the occasion of the wreck of the steamer City of Columbus, Gay Head, Jan. 18, 1884."   --Worcester Daily Spy, February 5, 1884
With her husband Abram and others, Rosanna Gershom Rodman is also distinguished in New England history as a petitioner for property and voting rights.

Ironically, the determination to critique supposed exhibits of racism by unenlightened observers gets in the way of appreciating great acts of heroism by people of color. Case in point, Professor Shoemaker's mishandling of a chapter in A Year with a Whaler by Walter Noble Burns, Burns has been called "America’s premier romantic outlaw-lawman mythmaker" but Shoemaker does not even footnote his influential career as historian and romancer of the wild American West. Rather, Burns shows up as a racist stooge for his prose portrait of the third mate, a Cape Verdean named Tomas Mendez, which Professor Shoemaker blasts as
"virulent racism mixed with xenophobia." --Nancy Shoemaker, Native American Whalemen and the World
My take: Burns unaffectedly relates his inexperienced, racially prejudiced view of Mendez as a monster of evil. All that's transparent. What Professor Shoemaker fails to mention is the context--which of course is everything, the whole point. Possibly she did not read far enough. Mendez turns out to be the hero of the chapter which is devoted to him, poetically and evocatively titled, "The Night King." The narrator exaggerates his hatred of Mendez at the beginning to set up the dramatic twist at the end. In a stove whaleboat Mendez heroically cuts the harpoon lines to save his crew:
When the whale crushed the boat—at the very moment, it must have been—the Night King had snatched the knife kept fastened in a sheath on the bow thwart and with one stroke of the razor blade, severed the harpoon lines. He thus released the whale and prevented it from dragging the boat away in its mad race. The Night King's last act had saved the lives of his companions.... 
The qualities that had made him hated when he was indeed the Night King flooded back upon me, but I did not forget the courage of my enemy that had redeemed them all and made him a hero in the hour of death.  --A year with a whaler, The Night King
In a later, emotionally powerful scene (also overlooked by Professor Shoemaker) the brother of Mendez unexpectedly learns of his death:
A pathetic incident grew out of the visit of the captain from the other ship. Tomas Mendez's brother, a boat-steerer, came aboard with the boat's crew. He was a young negro whom all the boat-steerers and officers knew. He came swinging lightly over our rail, laughing and happy over the prospect of seeing his brother. 
"Hello, fellers," he called to the Portuguese officers and boat-steerers who welcomed him. 
"Where's my brudder?" 
"Dead, my boy," said one of the boat-steerers gently. 
"Dead?" echoed Mendez. 
He staggered back. When he had heard the details of his brother's death, he burst into tears. All the time his skipper remained aboard, the poor fellow stood by the cooper's bench and sobbed.
The final chapter of Native American Whalemen and the World counterbalances old negative stereotypes of degradation with the positive theme of respect. If she had not already dismissed Tashtego as Melville's "token New England Indian" Professor Shoemaker might have fittingly cited the last chapter of Moby-Dick as an enduring fictional tribute to the prominence and heroism of Native Americans in the whaling industry. However romanticized, Melville's Tashtego still belongs in the category of respectful treatments of Indians. I almost wrote "the famous last chapter of Moby-Dick" but that could be wishful thinking.

Here's the tableau with Tashtego from chapter 135, THE CHASE — THIRD DAY:
For an instant, the tranced boat's crew stood still; then turned. "The ship? Great God, where is the ship?" Soon they through dim, bewildering mediums saw her sidelong fading phantom, as in the gaseous Fata Morgana; only the uppermost masts out of water; while fixed by infatuation, or fidelity, or fate, to their once lofty perches, the pagan harpooneers still maintained their sinking lookouts on the sea. And now, concentric circles seized the lone boat itself, and all its crew, and each floating oar, and every lance-pole, and spinning, animate and inanimate, all round and round in one vortex, carried the smallest chip of the Pequod out of sight. 
But as the last whelmings intermixingly poured themselves over the sunken head of the Indian at the mainmast, leaving a few inches of the erect spar yet visible, together with long streaming yards of the flag, which calmly undulated, with ironical coincidings, over the destroying billows they almost touched;—at that instant, a red arm and a hammer hovered backwardly uplifted in the open air, in the act of nailing the flag faster and yet faster to the subsiding spar. A sky-hawk that tauntingly had followed the main-truck downwards from its natural home among the stars, pecking at the flag, and incommoding Tashtego there; this bird now chanced to intercept its broad fluttering wing between the hammer and the wood; and simultaneously feeling that etherial thrill, the submerged savage beneath, in his death-gasp, kept his hammer frozen there; and so the bird of heaven, with archangelic shrieks, and his imperial beak thrust upwards, and his whole captive form folded in the flag of Ahab, went down with his ship, which, like Satan, would not sink to hell till she had dragged a living part of heaven along with her, and helmeted herself with it.

Now small fowls flew screaming over the yet yawning gulf; a sullen white surf beat against its steep sides; then all collapsed, and the great shroud of the sea rolled on as it rolled five thousand years ago. --Herman Melville, Moby-Dick 
 Related post:

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Mistery of Whaling (1841)

This unusually vivid and detailed description of whaling appeared in the Nantucket Inquirer nearly six months after Herman Melville shipped for Cape Horn and the Pacific Ocean in the whaler Acushnet. As reported in Herman Melville's Whaling Years (68-9), the Acushnet would anchor in Santa harbor, Peru ("her first Pacific Ocean anchorage") on Wednesday, June 23, 1841. Transcribed below, the unsigned sketch was first published in the Inquirer on June 12, 1841, then reprinted in numerous other newspapers under the corrected title, "The Mystery of Whaling."

An abbreviated version with more commas and fewer hyphens was published in volume 15 of the Quaker literary magazine, The Friend (Philadelphia, 1842): The Mystery of Whaling in The Friend 15.26 (1842): 203-5. Also published on January 22, 1842 in the Supplement to the Hartford, Connecticut Courant.

Perils of Whaling, sketch by F. A. Olmstead, 1841
Perils of Whaling by Francis Allyn Olmsted via Wikimedia Commons


Several sketches, descriptive of the process of taking whales, and of the operations on board ship connected with that gigantic sport, have from time to time been given to the public, per newspaper and pamphlet. We have seen no one, however, which for minuteness and fidelity of detail, surpasses the following. Its spirited and graphic delineations will not only interest the practical whaler; but is systematic account of the entire process, from beginning to end, will furnish both amusement and instruction to the uninitiated.—We are under obligations to the ingenious and able author, who has manifestly “seen a little service” in this pursuit—sufficient to obtain complete mastery of his subject—for this highly welcome contribution.

Written for the Inquirer.

“There she blows—there she blows—there she blows,” repeated at intervals of half a minute, is a cry often heard, and oftener wished for, from the mast-head of a whale-ship in whaling waters. And quickly is that cry from aloft followed by the question of “where away?” from the deck. “Two points off the lee bow, sir.” “How far off?” “Three miles, sir.” —“What do you call him?" says the captain. “Sperm whale, sir,” roars out the man aloft; and again he gives the cry of “there she blows,” with a noise that wakes the sleepers below, and puts to flight the dreams that have doubtless been coursing through their brains—for most people dream at sea whether they do on shore or not—and many of the dreamers have full faith in them, too, and can tell to a certainty by the dream of the previous night, whether the day will bring forth whales; whether they will be obtained if seen; whether there will be one seen or many, and whether they will behave civilly or show fight. The cry is given, and vivid excitement pervades all on board. But the captain exhibits no hurry. He turns perhaps to the cabin gangway, and says, “steward.” The word is followed at the instant by an emphatic “sir” from below. “Pass up the glass.”—“Ay, ay, sir,” is the response. A second more and the crisped locks of the sable steward emerge from the stairway. He presents the glass, an unequivocal smile separating his lips, and his eyes rolling with joy, though trying to preserve his dignity and imitate the coolness of the captain. With the spyglass on his shoulder the captain goes aloft and looks through his tube, to determine whether it is a sperm whale or some other kind, of which there are several, and although the appearance of their spout is somewhat different, they cannot always be distinguished by even a practised eye at any great distance. If the captain is satisfied of its being a sperm whale, he calls out “get the boats ready.” “Ay, ay, sir,” answers the mate from the deck. The watch below are called up; the boatsteerers look to the boats to see that every thing is in its place; superfluous clothing is thrown aside; belts are buckled on and suspenders thrown off. The cooper must stop working (in some ships) lest the noise should reach the whales and alarm them. The boys are strung out on the lower yards, and have just caught sight of the spout. “There she blows—blows-—blows,” becomes more frequent and less loud. Now they are seen from the deck. A few minutes have elapsed, and the captain is coming down. He passes aft to the quarter deck. The whales are getting near —perhaps within a quarter of a mile. The mate is standing by the captain. The latter speaks. “Let the main-yard come aback, Mr. A.” “Haul the main-yard aback,” says the mate. It is done, and the ship is stationary.—“Stand by the boats.” The crews group about their several boats, ready to jump in. The three mates are in the sterns of their different boats, with a boatsteerer in the head of each. Six men are at the different falls, ready to lower. The captain gives the word— “now lower away gently.” One after the other the boats drop into the water and are cleared from the tackles. The crews tumble in as they may and shove off.

As it is barely possible that there are persons who have never seen a whaleboat when rigged for service, let us occupy a moment in looking at one. A whaleboat is about 25 feet long, 6 feet wide in the centre, sharp at both ends, clinker built, and light. It is pulled (landsmen ignorantly say rowed) by five oars—three on one side, two on the other. It is steered with an oar similar in shape to those used in pulling, but of two or three times the size. A boat's crew consists of six, viz: a boatsteerer, who pulls the first or harpoon oar; one man to pull the next, or bow oar; one at the next, or midship oar, which is the heaviest and requires a strong pair of arms; one at the tub oar which comes next; and one at the after oar, which is the last and lightest, and is generally pulled by the smallest of the crew. The mate has the steering oar and is commander. The boatsteerer, whose title would indicate the steering-oar as his place, does not have charge of it until the whale has been struck with the harpoon, when he changes place with the mate, who finishes the performance with a lance. The person who is steering stands up. There are paddles in the boat to be used when the noise of oars might frighten the whales. There is generally a mast that can be hoisted or taken down at leisure, with a goodly sized sail to aid in propelling the boat; and sometimes two masts and sails, and a jib beside, making three sails. The line, coiled in a tub pierced with augur holes, is placed between the seats or thwarts of the tub and after-oarsman. When the whale is struck and runs out line, the tub-oarsman seizes a small bucket, placed at hand for the purpose, and douses water in the tub to keep the line wet and prevent the rapid friction from causing fire. In the stern of the boat is a keg containing a lantern, a tinder box, matches and candle. A keg of water, one or two buckets, a boat hook, and five paddles are stowed under the seats.—Along the sides are tied up spare harpoons, lances, and a large instrument called a spade. It is used for cutting holes in the whale's head, or elsewhere, when dead, for ropes to pass through. Spare thole-pins are tied to those already in use, to supply the place should any of them break. They form the row-locks for the oars. In the head of the boat are two harpoons ready for immediate use. A hatchet and boat-knife are also there, secured in convenient places to be at hand if needed. The line is passed from the tub round a stout piece of timber near the stern, called the logger-head, and thence forward to a grove in a head called the chocks. A small wooden pin keeps the line from jumping out of the chocks. A sufficient length of line is drawn through and coiled down to throw out with the harpoon. The end is made fast to one iron, (harpoons are so called) and the other attached to the same line by a piece of rope or short warp.

Thus prepared, the sails are hoisted, the oars are peaked, and the men, seated on the sides or gunwale of the boat, add the force of the paddles to the assistance of the wind. Carefully avoiding to pull on the whale's eye, they get directly behind him, taking a wide circuit to do so if necessary, and keep as much so as possible until the head of the boat is nearly up with his flukes (tail.) The mate then sheers out and runs the boat up alongside, calling out at the same time to the boatsteerer, “stand up.”—The boatsteerer drops his paddle and seizes the harpoon. “Dart,” says the mate. The men drop their paddles, jump to their seats, and take the oars. The iron flies —it has fastened— the second iron follows quick as thought—the whale is struck. With a start and lash of his huge tail he makes a hillock of foam. “Stern all” is the word, and the boat is backed off by the oars.

But all this is the work of a moment, and the whale has disappeared. He is going down, and the line is whizzing round the logger-head and through the chocks. The tub-oarsman throws water on the line; the mate goes in the head; the boat-steerer goes aft; the bowman clears away the lance for the mate. The line all this time has been left to run free, but it begins to go out with less velocity. “Take a turn,” says the mate. The boat flies through the water, throwing a sheet of foam from either bow as she follows the course of the whale; for he is now running parallel to the surface of the water though a long way down. He may run in this way a mile or two, but generally comes up sooner. When he first comes to the surface he will very likely flounce and thrash about for a few minutes, and then be quiet before he takes another start. Now is the time to go up to him. “Haul line,” says the mate, “haul hard, boys, there he lays like a log.” By hauling in the line, the boat is drawn up near enough to the whale for the mate to throw a lance in some vital part. Very often the whale is killed with a few well directed lances, or even one; but sometimes it is a more serious affair. To get near enough to reach the whale with a lance, and still to avoid getting hit by him, requires quick work and cool judgment. When the animal is kind, it is easy enough; but when it is an ugly whale, when there is a tossing, broken sea, rendering it difficult to work the boat quick, then it is that strong arms, cool heads, and bold hearts are needed.

Boats are often knocked to pieces by the whale's flukes, or bit in pieces when he is gnashing his teeth in his agony; but comparatively few persons are killed, or even hurt, when such occurrences do take place. Two or three boats will be destroyed, partially or entirely, without an individual being hurt. When a lance has taken much effect, he spouts out blood with his breath. This is a welcome sight to all concerned, and is hailed with noisy manifestations of joy, “There's blood”— “There he spouts thick blood”—“There he rolls it out, thick as tar.” After spouting out an immense quantity of blood, and bleeding from all the lance holes, his giant strength begins to fail.—He breathes slower and lashes the water with less force. Presently he stops blowing, but his strength is suddenly renewed. He starts off with a speed equal to his most successful efforts in his palmiest days of health and strength. He does not go in a straight line, but describes a circle. Now slack line and give him room.—Keep out of his way, for he no longer sees or heeds boat, harpoon, or lance—mate, friend or enemy. Onward he plunges with the energy of delirium. “Slack line—pull out of his way—pull hard—there, let her run, he'll go clear,” are the successive orders of the mate as he puts the sheath on his lance, knowing that its work is done. The whale has circled round once, twice, and perhaps again; but his race is nearly run—he stops—he raises his monstrous head as if trying to escape from his native element—he sinks back and turns upon his side—he shows the corner of his fluke—he is dead.

Glee now takes the place of anxiety in the countenance of the timid, and quiet satisfaction in that of the resolute. Now haul in your slack line and coil down. It comes in merrily. No urging is now needed. The boat is by the whale's head. The spade is cleared away, with which the mate is cutting a hole to pass a rope through. The bow-man is holding the boat up with his boat-hook. The hole being made the rope is passed. “Give us the waif" says the mate briskly. A small flag is handed out and stuck on a pole. It is the signal to those in the ship that the whale is dead.

Let us go to the ship. She is four miles of to windward. The other two boats are within a mile of her, chasing whales, but cannot get up to them. The captain is on the fore-top-gallant-cross-trees with his spyglass. He sees the waif. It is near night. “On deck,” he calls out. “Sir,” answers one on deck. “Run that signal up at the mizen peak.” “Ay, ay, sir,” says the man. The signal halliards are brought in, the flag made fast and run up. It is the signal for the two near boats to come aboard. They see it, and relinquish the chase. They are soon along side and hoisted up; the sails are filled, and the ship is running down to the dead whale. But it is getting dark; the wind is light, and the whale is four miles off.—The captain has lost sight of whale and boat and is running by guess. Presently a small light is seen for an instant on the surface of the water and disappears. It is enough—the boat is there. “Keep off another point" is the order from aloft. “Keep off another point, sir,” is repeated from the deck, and the ship is again headed for the whale. The light of the boat's lantern is visible or hidden as she rises and falls with the swell of the sea. It becomes more and more constant, and soon ceases to disappear.

While the ship is drawing down, preparation is made for securing the whale to the ship. A stout cable is strung along the deck to be passed round his flukes. One end of this cable, or fluke rope, has an eye, formed by unlaying the strands, doubling back, and splicing in; while the other end is whipped up snug to be rove through the eye. A small line with a buoy at one end is fastened by the other end to the eye of the fluke rope. A lead sinker is attached to the line at the distance of two or three fathoms from the buoy. As the light becomes visible from the deck, those on the look out aloft have come down and are leaning over the rail, still watching its position. When nearly within hail of the boat, some of the sails are clewed up, and the ship's head-way sufficiently diminished for getting the whale to the ship. This is effected by various manoeuvres, and he is placed alongside; the small line that is fast to his head having been handed on deck, by which he is now held. The buoy rope with the lead attached is dropped in the water between the whale and ship. A slanting direction is given to the sinker to carry it under and outside of him. The lead is heavy enough, with the momentum it acquires in dropping, to carry the buoy down and under the whale, when it rises on the outside, and is hooked up with the line-hook from the deck.—The eye of the fluke-rope being fast to the other end, is immediately drawn round and hauled up to the rail. The free end is then rove through and bowsed up taut, thus bringing the eye down to the small of the whale (which is the part just before his flukes) and jamming up tighter the more it is pulled upon. Now pass the end over the side again and forward to the hawser-hole in the bow—pass it in and stream across deck. “Hook on every body, and slew the whale round.” Round he comes—his flukes are drawn forward, and the head goes aft, abreast of the main chains. “Make fast all,” says the captain. The fluke rope is secured by repeated turns round the bits (or timbers at the heel of the bowsprit) and stoppered together with spun-yarn; parcelling is put round where it runs through the hauser-hole, and well smeared with slush to prevent chafing. Another stout rope is made fast to the short warp in his head, and secured on the quarter deck. The first act is finished. He is ready to be cut in on the morrow.

It is now late in the evening, and they have eaten nothing since dinner, or quite as likely; since breakfast. The cook has taken a kid of potatoes and a bucket of tea to the fore-castle, and the same to the steerage. They have bread, molasses, and cold meat below. The steward has been setting the table in the cabin. The captain speaks to the mate: “Let the people have their suppers Mr. A.”—"Go to your suppers, there," calls out the mate. They dive down, nothing loth. Each one helps himself to a tinpotful of tea, and stirs in some molasses; puts one or two good sized sweet potatoes in his pan, with a slice of salt junk and a cake or two of bread. Perhaps he has a piece of "duff" to eke out the repast. Duff is a pudding made of flour and water, nicely shortened with slush and boiled in salt water. Eaten with molasses it is nutritious, and palatable to most persons. To some it smacks a little of the glauber and other salts contained in the briny fluid in which it has undergone the process of cooking. Thus accoutred, seated around on their sea-chests with pan in lap and tin pot alongside, they set to in good earnest, keeping up at the same time an animated discussion of the performances of the day; interspersed with plenty of joke, gibe, and repartee. In the meanwhile the steward shows himself and announces to the Captain that "supper's ready, sir ;" or if he is in the humor for a polite flourish, he makes a half scrape and says, "please to walk down to supper, sir." The captain says, "ay, ay," or "very well," or perhaps nothing at all, but continues leaning against the mizzen-top-sail-sheet-bits with the mate at his lee side. In a few minutes he starts to go down, saying at the same time “supper, Mr. A."— "supper, sir," answers the mate. The captain goes down and seats himself at the table. The mate has remained on deck. Two or three minutes elapse and the mate makes a move. He walks to the second mate; says "supper, Mr. B." and goes below to take his seat by the side of the captain. The second mate answers “supper, sir," and goes to the third mate, to whom he says "supper Mr. C.," and then follows the mate to the table. The third mate responds as the others "supper, sir," and looks for the boat-steerers before he goes down. He gives the intimation as before, only omitting the Mr. before the surname. The boat-steerers answer "supper, sir," or "supper," or "ay, ay," as they feel inclined; the necessity for etiquette diminishing as the rank descends. All having been duly summoned, in the course of ten or fifteen minutes from the first announcement they are at the table. As those first seated do not wait for the others before commencing operations, it might at first appear that the order of rank would give a decided advantage in disposing of the contents of the dishes. The supposition may not be entirely groundless; but as the captain does most of the talking, the mate somewhat less, the second and third mates but little, and the boat-steerers say nothing at all, the disadvantage the latter comers might labor under is somewhat diminished, by these last giving undivided attention to the subject in hand, while the first seated are losing time in wordy discussions.

Supper being over, a half an hour may elapse before the watch is set and all others sound asleep, recruiting strength for the labors of the ensuing day. The boat-steerer who has the watch, is walking forward and aft on the quarter deck, occasionally stopping and leaning over the gangway rail. He is looking complacently at the whale. His black body is indistinctly seen in the darkness, but the phosphorescent flashing of the water as it ripples against his flukes, head, and sides, marks the outline of his dimensions.

“That's a big whale" says the man, "he'll make ninety barrels." "Yes more" answers his fellow of the watch," if he don’t stow down a hundred, I'll eat snakes and milk, and I don't like 'em neither." The boat-steerer turns away and resumes his walk, beguiling the time in calculating how many more such fellows will be wanted before the joyful sound of "full ship" will be heard; or in thinking of some token of remembrance for wife, friend, or sweetheart, to be fabricated from the ivory teeth of the whale. And a far more threatening aspect they present in his wide opened jaw, than when converted into the shining reel or polished swift on which some fair one winds her threads, and greets the donor and perchance the conqueror too, with the fairy smiles of grateful love. In such and other idle fancies the time is wiled away, until the bell strikes the signal that the watch is out. The second watch come up rubbing their eyes, in no very sweet disposition of mind; for having been turned in just long enough to taste the sweets of sleep after fatigue, without its having had time to do its kindly work of restoration, the short summons to the deck is anything but agreeable, or calculated to produce placidity of feeling. Nevertheless they are there. The word is passed (that is, whatever orders the captain may have left), the relieved stop a minute or two to chat with the relievers (unless they are too sulky) and then go below to sleep quietly till morning. Let us leave them at their slumbers, and the second watch to occupy their time on deck, and be in turn relieved by the third, to take another nap ere the first streak of daylight summons all hands to the task of cutting in. 
--Nantucket Inquirer (June 12, 1841); found in the online archive of historical newspapers at Genealogy Bank.
Reprinted widely in 1841-2, for example:
  • Schenectady Reflector, Friday Morning, July 2, 1841
  • [Jamaica, New York] Long-Island Farmer, Tuesday, July 20, 1841
  • Alexandria [Virginia] Gazette, Wednesday, December 1, 1841
  • New York Commercial Advertiser, Wednesday, December 1, 1841
  • New York Spectator, Saturday, December 4, 1841
  • [Hartford] Connecticut Courant, Friday, January 22, 1842
  • Bridgeton [New Jersey] Chronicle, Saturday, March 5, 1842
  • [Worcester] Massachusetts Spy, Wednesday, March 16, 1842
  • Raleigh [North Carolina] Register, Friday, May 27, 1842; reprinted "From the Nantucket Inquirer" over the signature of "C. C. R. 
 Related Melvilliana post:

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Gansevoort Melville in Nashville, "The Dying Douglass" passage

The Battle of Chevy Chase by Edward Bird
Image Credit: The Douglas Archive
Henry Clay is a Whig Harry Hotspur in Gansevoort Melville's wild and romantic allegory. Martin Van Buren, modestly deferring to Polk in the 1844 presidential campaign, is represented as James, 2nd Earl of Douglas, heroically dying on the field of battle at Otterburn (Chevy Chase in English ballads). As Michael Paul Rogin reads the extravagant rhetoric of Herman Melville's older brother, Gansevoort
"glorified a Scottish rebel, not a loyal English prince. His Dying Douglass figure of speech not only killed Van Buren in the name of saving him; it also identified the Democratic party with usurpation."  --Subversive Genealogy
Here is the full "Dying Douglass" excerpt from the Albany Argus (September 25, 1844); found in the amazing newspaper archives at Fulton History:

Albany Argus (September 25, 1844)



The last Nashville Union gives the following happy and brilliant passage from GANSEVOORT MELVILLE’S speech at the great Mass Meeting [August 15, 1844] at that place: 
After having dwelt at considerable length upon other topics of discussion, Mr. Melville, in the course of his speech, emphatically repelled the idea which the Whigs of Tennessee are so laborious in inculcating, that Mr. Van Buren is giving but a cold and insincere support to the nomination of Polk and Dallas, and after demonstrating the warm desire which he feels for the success of the Democratic candidates, spoke at length of the career, character and elevated position of Martin Van Buren in terms which drew from the auditors oft repeated and enthusiastic responses. In speaking of the magnanimity of Mr. Van Buren’s latest public act, his letter to the New York committee, Mr. Melville said: 
And here let us take from the simple page of history an illustration of kindred heroism. During the long and bloody warfare which existed between the English and Scotch for several centuries, many well contested and glorious actions were fought, but none better contested or more glorious than the battle of Otterbourne, which took place in the latter part of the fourteenth century. The opposing forces were well matched in point of numbers, bravery and discipline, and each headed by a leader of acknowledged prowess. The English rallied under the banner of the princely house of Percy, which, on that field, was represented well by the pride and hope of his ancient lineage, gallant Harry Percy—the Harry Hotspur of Shakespeare. The Scotch swarmed around a standard that bore aloft a bloody heart, the well known badge of haughty Douglass.—James, Earl of Douglass, a chieftain worthy of his heroic name, led them to the encounter. Thus equal in numbers, courage, and generalship, the battle raged for several hours, and the event was yet uncertain. The Scottish leader, in the hope of deciding the contest, gave the signal for a general charge, and, sword in hand and spur on heel, he led it gallantly. While waving his arm to his troops to invite them onward, an arrow pierced his heart. He fell from his saddle. His chiefs thronged around him. Death was perceptible on his brow. Everything near and dear to him was flitting from his grasp. His vast baronial estates, feudal honors, military fame, wife, children and friends, were to him as naught. They claimed not one single memory. He thought not of himself—his thoughts were all his country’s. But one idea occupied his mind and concentrated all his being. The life blood was oozing from his side—he felt it not. The hand of death was upon him—he heeded it not. His chiefs had raised him from the ground. Opening his glazing eyes he said: 
"I am dying. There is a tradition in our family that a dead Douglass shall win a field; and I trust that it may this day be accomplished. Advance my standard—shout my war cry and avenge my fall."
They left him there to die. They did as they were directed. They charged upon the enemy with the hurricane charge of men determined to do or die. The enemy that heretofore had maintained their ground gave way, and were driven before that charge as the chaff before the wind. The result was no longer doubtful—the victory was most decisive. Hotspur and his brother were taken prisoners. HENRY CLAY is the HARRY HOTSPUR of the whig party. (Here the speaker was broken in upon with a shout from tens of thousands of voices, that seemed to rend the very heavens.)
Mr. Melville proceeded. In this historical reminiscence let him read his fate. We have lost our favorite leader, but we remember his parting words. And in November, 1844, there will be another charge akin to that of Otterbourne—a charge of the labour and manhood of the land—the Iron legions that never quail—the serried phalanx of the unterrified democracy. The result of that charge is easily foreseen; for [i]n obedience to that great universal law of nature which bids the weaker give way to the stronger, Henry Clay and his cohorts, struggle as they may, must go down before it. That onslaught of the united democratic forces, in November next, will close the chequered political life of the great Kentucky statesman—will seal the fate of the modern Hotspur—herald the advent of the rising star of Tennessee, and vindicate the supremacy of that heaven-[born] spirit of progress, love and truth, which is one and identical with true democracy. (The cheering that followed Mr. Melville’s speech, and attended its delivery at intervals, throughout, was long, loud and enthusiastic.)
Grand Democratic Banner
via Library of Congress
Related posts:

Gansevoort Melville on Frelinghuysen, "a very good sort of person to talk to a party of old ladies."

Image Credit: New York University
Just a taste of Gansevoort Melville's speech at the 1844 Nashville convention. We knew about the "Dying Douglass" passage, but not this bit about the problem of spelling "Frelinghuysen":

New York Express (August 26, 1844)
"... Mr. Melville, of New York, followed. This flippant city gentleman undertook to be witty. He thought Western folks did not know how to spell Frelinghuysen, and said he was a very good sort of person to talk to a party of old ladies. Very smart this! We think the Western people know too much to take lessons in spelling or writing, or any thing else, from Mr. Melville."
Later in the 1844 campaign, as reported in the melvilliana post on Gansevoort's height, Gansevoort was criticized in the Whig press for calling Frelinguysen "a small potato Whig" and worse.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Kenneth Patchen on Leaves of Grass and Mardi

Image Credit: University of Rochester
"Where did Leaves of Grass come from? From Herman Melville’s beautiful poem-in-prose called Mardi? (Read it some time.)" 
--Kenneth Patchen, "Whitman, 'our all-aroundest poet,' is culled by Mark Van Doren." 
Reprinted in Still Another Pelican in the Breadbox, but I found Patchen's review of The Portable Walt Whitman online via Fulton History in the New York PM Daily for 1945. Hard to tell the issue date--looks to be the Sunday magazine, August 12, 1945.

Link to pdf file at Fulton History: