In 1602 the English colonist Bartholomew Gosnold arrived in the ship Concord, landed at Cuttyhunk Island, off Cape Cod, and laid claim to the entire region.
In 1652 English settlers from the Plymouth Colony acquired from Chief Massasoit control of 115,000 acres along the south coast of Massachusetts.
The colonial town government, organized in 1664, encompassed the present towns of Acushnet, Dartmouth, Fairhaven, New Bedford, and Westport. The economy was agrarian – a few scattered villages that supported themselves by farming and fishing.
The merchant families who came to New Bedford from Nantucket in the 1760s brought not only their whaling expertise, but also the Quaker traditions that had sustained them on the island. These traditions profoundly influenced business dealings and social relations during the whaling era and afterwards.
In the mid-18th century Nantucket emerged as the world’s most vigorous whaling port in the colonies, with a substantial fleet dedicated exclusively to pelagic sperm and right whaling on distant grounds, and a highly developed network of merchants and mariners to prosecute the hunt.
By the 1840s, with its harbor no longer deep enough to handle newer, larger whaling ships, most of the vessels relocated to New Bedford, while most of the financiers and much of the money and good life stayed in Nantucket.
The whaling industry had a major effect upon Hawaiian commerce and trade. As the Northwest fur trade decreased and sandalwood supplies and values dropped, the whaling industry began to fill the economic void. The first New England Whalers came in 1819.
There were more than three hundred Nantucket whaling voyages to Hawaii and the Native Hawaiian crewmen aboard. Thousands of Hawaiians shipped out as seamen aboard the whaling ships, so many that the crews were often half Hawaiian.
Whaling had been “an economic force of awesome proportions in these Islands for more than forty years,” enabling King Kamehameha III to finally pay off the national debts accumulated in earlier years. (NPS)
Many of the Native Hawaiian seamen who joined the whalers were named George, Jack, Joe, or Tom Canacker, Kanaka, Mowee, or Woahoo. Their given names remain lost because of the common practice among whaling captains of giving them English nicknames and surnames.
As early as 1825, The Nantucket Inquirer estimated that there were more than fifty Pacific Islands on Nantucket, all employed on whale ships.
An 1834 editorial in the New Bedford Mercury defined “Canackers” for New England readers. “The term Canacker bears the same meaning as our English word man and is used by the natives to signify man, in general …”
“… and a man as distinguished from a woman or female. The present established mode of writing it is Kanaka, pronounced Kah nah kah, with the accent on the second syllable.” (Lebo)
By the 1830s, Nantucket whalers employed about fourteen hundred seamen, including Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders. Four or five hundred men arrived or departed annually.
As far as residents of Nantucket were concerned, Kanaka meant ‘male Pacific Islander,’ for whaling ships brought only young men, ‘single mariners,’ halfway around the world.
As ‘black men,’ Pacific Islanders ashore on Nantucket lived in ‘New Guinea.’
New Guinea was the segregated section of Nantucket where blacks lived in the 18th and 19th centuries. In the 18th century, a number of free blacks bought lots on the West Monomy shores, near the Old Mill.
Once known as Newtown, the area became known by 1820 as New Guinea, indicating the African roots of the property owners. (The label “New Guinea” was used in numerous cities and towns to designate the section in which people of color resided.) (MuseumOfAfroAmericanHistory)
The settlement, known as Guinea, or New Guinea, after the territory of the same name in West Africa, was a cluster of residences, gardens, and pastures physically separated from the white community by Newtown Gate, a sheep barrier at the end of Pleasant Street. There were stores, shops, churches, a school, and later on an abolition society. (Nantucket HA)
Among the residents of New Guinea in the 19th century, were at least three who had been born in Africa. One of them was James Ross. He had found his wife Mary Pompey on-island. Their children were, in order of birth: James Jr, Maria, Elizabeth, Sarah, and Eunice.
“In 1837 Maria Ross married William Whippey (identified as a ‘coloured’ man,) who was had been born in New Zealand in 1801, apparently the son of a Maori mother and one of the Nantucket whaling Whippeys.”
At least six sailor boarding houses operated during the 1820 to 1860 period when Native Hawaiian seamen frequented Nantucket. Together William and Maria ran a boarding house for Pacific Islanders on-shore from Nantucket whaling vessels.
That house, near Pleasant Street in Nantucket’s New Guinea section, primarily or exclusively boarded Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, and a sign identified William Whippy’s establishment as the “William Whippy Canacka Boarding-House.”
After William’s death from tuberculosis in 1847, Maria kept the boarding house going for a while and then remarried. Widowed again, she went to work as a stewardess on the Island Home, a steamboat running between Nantucket and Hyannis. (lots of information here is from Lebo, Karttunen, Carr and Okihiro.)
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