Nancy ShoemakerNative American Whalemen and the World: Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race

University of North Carolina Press, 2015

by Andrew Epstein on May 18, 2015

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For as long as Herman Melville's Moby Dick has been a staple of the American literary canon, one element often goes unnoticed.

The ship commanded by the monomanacial Ahab on his quest to slay the great white whale is named the Pequod, just one letter of difference from Pequot, a Native nation living within what is now southern New England. Perhaps Mellville was just participating in the widespread romantic nostalgia of the age, when many corporate enterprises and vessels took the name of the supposedly disappearing and noble Indians.

Or, maybe he was simply gesturing at the reality of the industry.

In the middle decades of the nineteenth century, when Moby Dick takes place, Native men from New England constituted a huge portion of the whaling workforce, some spending decades at sea, encountering diverse peoples across two oceans, and invigorating their economically marginalized reservations with vital income. These forgotten seamen finally have a chronicler in Nancy Shoemaker, professor of history at the University of Connecticut. Author or editor of seven books, her latest is Native American Whalemen and the World: Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race (University of North Carolina Press, 2015).

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