Origins of whaling in America

Samuel Dayton and his son Abraham were merchants of whale oil. We know that Abraham had a whaling company, but we do not know much more than that. One can only imagine.

(I was saving this post for later, but I just watched the movie Heart of the Sea and decided not to wait).


When the word whaling is spoken, most people probably conjure up romantic images not unlike those created in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick—tall ships sailing out of Massachusetts in pursuit of the prized sperm whale. That is also the way I used to view whaling before studying 17th century whaling on Long Island.

The origins of whaling in America are traced back to the aborigines but what histories can be found do not clearly reveal the forms or extent of whaling practiced by Native Americans before Europeans arrived. On Long Island, we do know they made use of drift whales washed up on their shores.

Contrary to popular belief that whaling started in Massachusetts, Alexander Starbuck has said it is “safe to assert that the first organized prosecution of the American whale-fishery was made along the shores of Long Island.” The New Bedford Whaling Museum website admits “the first record of English colonists’ attempts to organize community efforts to hunt drift whales was in Southampton, Long Island, in March of 1644/45.”

The writers for the museum then apply their own spin, claiming, “Over the next 30 years this organization developed into actual shore-whaling operations, where small boats were launched into the surf when whales were sighted offshore.” Recognizing our own bias, we believe it would be more correct to say something like “before the end of the decade, this organization developed into actual shore-whaling operations…” but New Bedford’s self-interests are understood.

This entry was posted in Abraham Dayton, Photos, Samuel Dayton, Whaling and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Origins of whaling in America

    • stdayton says:

      Thanks Ed! I hadn’t seen that one. I am in awe of the whale and have an increased respect for early whalers. I wish I had been along on the trip to the whale museum at Sag Harbor.


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