Friday, January 14, 2011

Her Crew

Nantucket men preferred to sail with men born and bred on the island, but the "whaling capital of the world" could no longer supply all the manpower needed so captains were beginning to recruit "coofs," Cape Codders from the Cape or mainland. These men were usually inexperienced, hoping to learn the trade on their first voyage. Many of them were black men, seeking the relative equality they enjoyed aboard whaling ships.

Captain Pollard gathered his crew of 20 men into three whaleboats. After four torturous months at sea, five surviving crewman, all Nantucketers, were rescued by whaling ships off the coast of Chile. These five, and the three who stayed on the island, were the only survivors of the ordeal.

Pollard took all Nantucketers into his boat which was found on 23 February by the American whaling ship Dauphin. Pollard and Ramsdell, barely alive, were also returned to Valparaiso. They were reunited in March on the USS Constellation, where the captain was told about the three men left on the Island.
  • Captain George Pollard Jr. (Captain) ~ Was born in Nantucket, the son of a ship’s captain. Pollard and the others on his boat made the same dreadful decision that Chase and his companions would eventually make. The whaling ship Dauphin rescued him on 23 February. He sailed only once more from Nantucket, as the Captain of the whaling ship Two Brothers. In March 1823, the ship was wrecked on a coral reef. Pollard returned to Nantucket a broken man, and served out 45 years as a night watchman.
  • Owen Coffin (Sailor) ~ Of the Nantucket Island Coffins. Faced with a long lingering death, the crew suggested they draw lots to see who should next be eaten, the unlucky candidate to first be shot by one of his companions. By a cruel irony, it was Pollard's 17-year-old cousin, Owen Coffin, who drew the shortest straw. Pollard at once said, “My lad, my lad, if you don’t like your lot, I’ll shoot the first man that touches you.” But Coffin was resigned to his fate. He said, “I’ll like it as well as any other.” He was shot on 11 February by childhood friend Charles Ramsdell, who drew the next shortest lot.
  • Charles Ramsdell (Sailor) ~ Was born in Nantucket, MA. The whaling ship Dauphin rescued him on 23 February. He captained the General Jackson on a successful trip before his retirement from the sea. Thomas Nickerson became a captain in the Merchant Service before retiring to run a boarding house in Nantucket.
  • Barzillai Ray (Sailor) ~ Of Nantucket. Died on 11 February and eaten by his companions.
  • Lawson Thomas (Sailor) ~ Died on 20 January. African American.
Chase had some Nantucketers, some “coofs” and one black man. Found by the British ship Indian. The three were taken to Valparaiso, Chili.
  • Owen Chase (First Mate) ~ Was born in Nantucket, MA. Rescued on 18 February by the British brig, Indian. Owen’s account, the Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, was used by Herman Melville as one of the inspirations for his novel Moby Dick. He was appointed Captain of the Carroll in 1832 and made two very successful voyages into the South Pacific before retiring from the sea in 1840, partly due to ill health. For the rest of his life, he suffered from debilitating headaches, which seemed to owe their origins to the events of 1821. Towards the end of his life he became mentally unstable, and was found to be hoarding food in the attic of his Nantucket home on Orange Street. He died in March 1869, aged 71.
  • Benjamin Lawrence (Boatsteerer) ~ Of Nantucket, MA. Rescued on 18 February by the British brig, Indian. Went on to captain two successful whaling voyages aboard the Dromo and the Huron. Thereafter, he retired to the life of a farmer, and died in April 1879 at the age of 80.
  • Isaac Cole (Sailor) ~ From Barnstable, MA. Died on 8 February, 'in the most dreadful of agonies', in Chase’s boat. By now the food was almost gone and it was decided that they would use his body for food. Chase wrote, "We separated the limbs from the body, and cut all the flesh from the bones, after which, we opened the body, took out the heart, and then closed it again, sewed it up as decently as we could, and committed it to the sea." Both Benjamin Lawrence and Thomas Nickerson readily agreed, knowing that their food supplies were perilously low.
  • Richard Peterson (Sailor) ~ Of New York. Led them every day in prayer and whose hymns, sung in stronger days, had comforted them. Died 18 January 1851 'having made up his mind', as Chase later described it. He was buried at sea. African American.
  • Thomas Nickerson (Cabin Boy) ~ Was born in Harwich, MA. Rescued on 18 February by the British brig, Indian. His account, The Loss of the Ship Essex Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats, was lost until 1960. Its significance was realized in 1980, when it came into the hands of Nantucket whaling expert, Edouard Stackpole. It was published by the Nantucket Historical Association in 1984.
IN JOY’S BOAT (8 men):
Second mate Matthew Joy had a "coof" and the rest of the blacks. On 29 January his boat became separated from Pollard's and was never seen again.
  • Matthew Joy (Second Mate) ~ Of Nantucket, MA. Born 10 January 1851, Matthew was the first man to die. Chase maintained that he had been of a sickly constitution in any event, and that his death was as much due to that as the hardships of the voyage. His body was committed to the ocean the following day.
  • Obed Hendricks (Boatsteerer) ~ Of Nantucket, MA. Took command of the boat after Joy’s death. Never found.
  • Henry De Witt (Sailor) ~ Never found. African American.
  • Samuel Reed (Sailor) ~ Died on 28 January and eaten by his companions.
  • Isaiah Sheppard (Sailor) ~ Died on 27 January and eaten by his companions. African American.
  • Charles Shorter (Sailor) ~ Died on 23 January and eaten by his companions. African American.
  • Joseph West (Sailor) ~ Never found.
  • William Bond (Steward) ~ Never found. African American. 

A month into the voyage, they happened upon an unpopulated island where they were able to restock their food and water. Three men chose to remain on the island rather than face the open sea again. After 111 days on the island, they were rescued, but their stay on the island was not much better than those who were in the boats.
  • Thomas Chappel (Boatsteerer) ~ Stayed behind on Henderson Island. Rescued on 9 April 1821. An Englishman, Thomas became a missionary preacher and died of plague-fever on Timor island.
  • Seth Weeks (Sailor) ~ Of Barnstable, MA. Stayed behind on Henderson Island. Rescued on 9 April 1821 and continued on as crew member aboard the Surry, voyaging throughout the Pacific until they made their way to England and back to the United States. He eventually retired to Cape Cod, where he outlived all the other Essex survivors.
  • William Wright (Sailor) ~ Of Barnstable, MA. Stayed behind on Henderson Island. Rescued on 9 April 1821 and continued on as crew member aboard the Surry. He was drowned in a hurricane off the West Indies.

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