Atlantic's Whaling Contract

Original content by: Ryan Chalifour

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About This Document

Whaling contracts like this one were used to establish the roster of a ship's crew before beginning a voyage. This contract gives information for each crew member's station on the ship, their birthplaces, the date they signed up and the witness to their signatures. It was a legal document used by the shipping agent to outline the rights and expectations of both the crew members and their employers. Note that some names on the contract are accompanied by an "X" and the words "his mark," used as signature when crew members were illiterate.

Reading by Paul Goodwin.

Historical Context

In 1845 the whaling industry was booming and the small city of New London, Connecticut was the third largest whaling port in New England. Although the Ship Altantic was based in New London, it is noteworthy that the crew members listed here come from elsewhere in Connecticut, New York, Philadephia, and from as far afield as Maryland and Maine. It was usual for whaling ships' crews to be made up of people from many different places and backgrounds, seen to a small degree even in this partial list of the ship's crew. The racial and social prejudices of daily life were less prevalent in the whaling industry than jobs on shore, a difference driven by the heavy Quaker influence in whaling. The chance for equal pay and professional advancement attracted large numbers of freed slaves, Native Americans, Polynesians and other minorities to the whaling fleet.

Questions for Further Thought

  1. Did whaling contracts equally protect the interest of sailors and ship owners, or was one side given preference?
  2. Reading the contract, what information that would you expect to see about the crew or job is missing?
  3. What impacts did whaling have on people living in New England?