On August 13, 1804, a young sea captain named John D’Wolf sailed from his native port of Bristol, Rhode Island aboard the Juno, rounding South America’s Cape Horn and sailing northward to acquire furs along the Pacific Coast. His travels in the region earned him the nickname of Nor’west John. He was married to Mary Melville in 1817. He had a profound influence on Mary’s young nephew, Herman Melville, who spent his summer vacations with D’Wolf’s family at Bristol, Rhode Island.
The seafaring tales of ‘Nor’wester John’ stirred the boy’s imagination, encouraging him eventually to seek his own adventures at sea, culminating in the novel Moby Dick. As early as 1823 there were four mercantile houses in the Islands: Hunnewell’s, Jones’s, ‘Nor’west John’ D’Wolf’s and another from New York (possibly that of John Jacob Astor & Son, represented by John Ebbets. He died in Dorchester, Massachusetts at the home of his daughter on March 8, 1872.