Hispanic Division: Back to Whaling in Southeastern New England

Whaling Industry Links Early 19th-Century Portuguese Settlements

Portuguese settlements during the middle of the nineteenth century were found on opposite coasts of the United States -- on the Atlantic Coast in southern New England and on the Pacific Coast in the San Francisco Bay area and in Hawaii. Although these Portuguese communities were not large, their common link was the whaling industry, which was dominated by ports in southern New England, especially New Bedford, Massachusetts, the leading whaling port after 1830. Until the 1870s and 1880s, when this whaling enterprise ceased to be profitable, the several hundred Portuguese who had settled in Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay area were also involved in the whaling industry. Most of them had been sailors on whaling ships, but they eventually settled in a number of coastal whaling stations where migrant whales were spotted and pursued.

The importance of the whaling industry during the middle of the nineteenth century is reflected by this innovative thematic map prepared by Matthew Fontaine Maury, an American naval officer and oceanographer. Collecting data from various sources including logs from whaling ships, he compiled a map showing the distribution of different species of whales, identifying each with a combination of pictorial and color symbols. The pink color associated with the sperm whale, which was the basis of the New England whaling trade, shows one concentration in the North Pacific between Hawaii and the California coast.

Whale Chart
Matthew F. Maury. Whale Chart. Washington, D.C.: Naval Observatory, 1851. Color lithograph. Geography and Map Division, G9096s. C7 var. M3, series F (8).

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Whaling Industry Links Early Nineteenth-Century Portuguese Settlements

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