Thoughts on Whaling
After being on Cape Cod and Nantucket, I have been hearing more about the whaling history of this area. Having time to read, I picked up a couple of books about it–a fictional story about Ahab’s wife (The Ahab from Moby Dick) and a non-fiction tale about the whaleship Essex out of Nantucket (a story complete with an angry whale who “stove”–rammed– a ship and starving shipwrecked sailors who reached a point of desperation where they began to eat their shipmates.
One thing I found intriguing is that Nantucket, the whaling capital of the world in the 1800’s, but an island smaller than Camano Island, also had a strong Quaker community living on it. This came about because a highly influental woman on the island was converted by a Quaker when all other missionaries had been rejected and booted off the island.
When I think about the Quakers, I think most about their pacifism and their abolitionist movement, not the dirty but profitable whaling business. The more I read about whaling, the more it seems like an anomoly. Quiet spoken, plain dressed Quakers on a bloody, stinky, whaling ship where they would not only capture, but kill and process the whale all on the ship’s deck? Quakers engaging in cannabalism? One interesting fact is that while other whaling ships would press black sailors on and treat them like slaves, the Quaker whaling ships treated the black sailors as equals, perhaps not total integration, but giving the sailor the same wage as the others. However, it still seems an oxymoron that that these Nantucket Quakers pursued whaling so passionately while making a ton of money on the oil that they produced all the while “Fulfilling the Lord’s will” (from In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrik). Were they really fulfilling God’s will? It’s hard to say. For sure, the oil brought in from the Sperm whale was used all over the world to light the lamps of lighthouses, which saved many people from death. However, they also brought a lot of money their way, while also producing many widows and fatherless children. I am in no position to judge the Quakers, as the question I hear being asked of me is, what things to I justify as “The Lord’s Will” when in reality, I am pursuing them for my own profit?
On another note, while in Plymouth we walked around Burial Hill and saw many graves of some of the first Englishmen and women to live in our country. One grave stuck out, that of Adoniram Judson, who is called the “Father of the Baptist Missionary.” Not only did he translate the Bible into Burmese, but he spent many years in prison in Burma. This man, while doing the Lord’s will, obviously was not in it for his own profit.