“What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea
for a livelihood!… Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer’s.
For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires. ”
Herman Melville, Moby Dick
The history of Nantucket as discovered by the first off islander begins when Captain Bartholomew Gosnold an English Mariner chartered the “elbow of sand-“ and discovered it in 1602. Approximately 1,500 Native Americans populated the Island and began the interest in pursuing whales at first just from the shore. The white man’s approach to Nantucket came around 1641 when Lord Sterling sold the island to Thomas Mayhew in 1641, subsequently Mayhew broke the the Nantucket enterprise into 27 shares, the holders of which became the first white residents of Nantucket. In 1659 Nantucket was sold to the nine original purchasers for 30 pounds of sterling and two beaver hats. In 1673 offshore whaling begins, and by 1766 with 118 whaling ships going out from Nantucket, and at its peak with around 150 ships. You can read more about the History of Whaling in America and its timeline on pbs.org
Quakerism begins to take root after 1700, and the island became a refuge for those being persecuted. The Whaling Industry: Nantucket becomes the major whaling capital of the world. Quakers become influential in business and government. By this time the two most important events in the history of Nantucket, the coming of Quakerism and the pursuit of the sperm whale to the western oceans had gone into decline. Wars, disease and plain bad luck lead to the demise of the Native American ending with the death of the last man with Indian blood, a half breed, in 1854. The whaling industry had prospered through the 18th century with the interruption of the good times during the Revolutionary War and its resulting loss of ships causing huge monetary losses to the island economy. Recovery of the whaling industry after the war of 1812 began the platinum age of whaling.
This second prosperous period for Nantucket ended with a combination of events, the great fire of 1846, which left many islanders homeless and impoverished, the discovery of gold in California in 1849, an easy trip for men used to spending two years before the mast and the discovery outside of Boston of a method to refine the oil coming out of the earth in Pennsylvania. Whale oil lamps and sperm candles were now a thing of the past. But the great gift of the whaling days, Nantucket’s neighborhood’s and the assets represented in the fine homes built during the 1830’s were intact, and the money to improve or change them into something modern was non-existent as the population disappeared there was no demand for new houses when old ones could be had for the asking or a small price. In 1869 the last whaling ship leaves Nantucket to never return. By 1870, the only activity at the docks was the beginnings of the arrivals of the vacationers and island tourists that would continue today, the people that came to seek the summer ocean breezes and clear waters of Nantucket.
By the 1880’s the tradition of the summer vacation developed and what better way to enjoy this time than a journey capped by a cooling ferry ride to the far away land. In his classical novel Moby Dick, Herman Melville says “Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it. See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore . ..” Thus Nantucket becomes the ideal place to vacation in the summertime.
36% of the land is conservation. Moors, cranberry bogs, heaths, aromatic flowers, miles and miles of splendid beaches, three lighthouses, a working wind mill, and church steeples make up the tiny island. True Nantucket still remains priceless. Nicknamed Gray Lady, because of the fog, it is 3 1/2 width by 14 miles length tucked away 30 miles out in the ocean, this corner of heaven has worldwide visitors. It appeals to the wealthy visitors, nevertheless it is a terrific spot for romantic and family vacations. The town of Nantucket hugs the yacht filled harbor and features sophisticated gray shingled homes with white picket fences, shopping stores, cobblestone streets, world-renown restaurants, art-filled galleries, quaint historic captain whalers’ homes. Nantucket is also the birth location of the first woman astronomer Maria Mitchell, who was the first woman to discover a comet.
Sconset or Siasconset is on the east side of the island, a village community of picturesque rose covered cottages. The island also has one of the best sunsets on the West side at Madaket Beach, a favorite spot.
The best way to learn the history of Nantucket is not to read but to take a walk around the island’s treasures and historic sites and discover the Freedoms of Nantucket and what makes this place a world renown vacation destination; open your eyes look around at the wonders and beauty of Nantucket. You can see the Nantucket photos taken around the island.