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Chapter By Chapter Of The Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-ship Essex

Recently, we were reading about a blog that posts daily excerpts from famous books, and it gave us a really great idea for this blog. Our CEO mentioned a book he loves that "Moby Dick" was based upon, and so that's the book we're going to start with.

We originally were going to post shows from Old Time Radio because we've collected thousands of them, but that's already done on places like Youtube and podcasts.

Vintage books seem more in line with the products we sell here and would probably be much more interesting to our readers.

We hope you enjoy the book. It's supposed to be even more exciting than "Moby Dick."

So here goes:







J. Seymour, Printer.


Southern District of New-York, ss.

Be it remembered, That on the thirty-first day of October, in the forty-sixth year of the Independence of the United States of America, Jonathan Seymour, of the said District, hath deposited in this office the title of a book, the right whereof he claims as proprietor, in the words and figures following, to wit:

“Narrative of the most extraordinary and distressing shipwreck of the whale-ship Essex, of Nantucket; which was attacked and finally destroyed by a large spermaceti-whale, in the Pacific ocean; with an account of the unparalleled sufferings of the captain and crew during a space of ninety-three days at sea, in open boats, in the years 1819 and 1820. By Owen Chase of Nantucket, first mate of said vessel.”

In conformity to the Act of the Congress of the United States, entitled “An Act for the encouragement of Learning, by securing the Copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the time therein mentioned.” And also to an Act, entitled “an Act, supplementary to an Act, entitled an Act for the encouragement of Learning, by securing the copies of Maps, Charts, and Books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies, during the times therein mentioned, and extending the benefits thereof to the arts of designing, engraving, and etching historical and other prints.”


Clerk of the Southern District of New-York.



I am aware that the public mind has been already nearly sated with the private stories of individuals, many of whom had few, if any, claims to public attention; and the injuries which have resulted from the promulgation of fictitious histories, and in many instances, of journals entirely fabricated for the purpose, has had the effect to lessen the public interest in works of this description, and very much to undervalue the general cause of truth. It is, however, not the less important and necessary, that narratives should continue to be furnished that have their foundations in fact; and the subject of which embraces new and interesting matter in any department of the arts or sciences. When the motive is worthy, the subject and style interesting, affording instruction, exciting a proper sympathy, and withal disclosing new and astonishing traits of human character:—this kind of information 4becomes of great value to the philanthropist and philosopher, and is fully deserving of attention from every description of readers.

On the subject of the facts contained in this little volume, they are neither so extravagant as to require the exercise of any great credulity to believe, nor, I trust, so unimportant or uninteresting, as to forbid an attentive perusal. It was my misfortune to be a considerable, if not a principal, sufferer, in the dreadful catastrophe that befel us; and in it, I not only lost all the little I had ventured, but my situation and the prospects of bettering it, that at one time seemed to smile upon me, were all in one short moment destroyed with it. The hope of obtaining something of remuneration, by giving a short history of my sufferings to the world, must therefore constitute my claim to public attention.



The increasing attention which is bestowed upon the whale fishery in the United States, has lately caused a very considerable commercial excitement; and no doubt it will become, if it be not at present, as important and general a branch of commerce as any belonging to our country. It is now principally confined to a very industrious and enterprising portion of the population of the States, many individuals of whom have amassed very rapid and considerable fortunes. It is a business requiring that labour, economy, and enterprise, for which the people of Nantucket are so eminently distinguished. It has enriched the inhabitants without bringing with it the usual corruptions and luxuries of a foreign trade; and those who are now most successful and conspicuous in it, are remarkable for the primitive simplicity, integrity, 6and hospitality of the island. This trade, if I may so call it, took its rise amongst the earliest settlers, and has gradually advanced to the extended, important, and lucrative state in which it now is, without any material interruption, and with very little competition until the present time. The late war temporally, but in a great degree affected its prosperity, by subjecting numerous fine vessels with their cargoes to capture and loss; but in its short continuance, it was not sufficient to divert the enterprise of the whalemen, nor to subdue the active energies of the capitalists embarked in it. At the conclusion of peace, those energies burst out afresh; and our sails now almost whiten the distant confines of the Pacific. The English have a few ships there; and the advantages which they possess over ours, it may be feared will materially affect our success, by producing in time a much more extensive and powerful competition. They are enabled to realize a greater profit from the demand and price of oil in their markets; and the encouragement afforded by parliament, not only in 7permitting the importation of it free of duty, but in granting a liberal bounty. It is to be hoped that the wisdom of Congress will be extended to this subject; and that our present decided supremacy will not be lost for the want of a deserved government patronage.

Recent events have shown that we require a competent naval force in the Pacific, for the protection of this important and lucrative branch of commerce; for the want of which, many serious injuries and insults have been lately received, which have a tendency to retard its flourishing progress, and which have proved of serious consequence to the parties concerned.

During the late war, the exertions and intrepidity of Capt. Porter, were the means of saving a great deal of valuable property, which otherwise must have fallen into the hands of the enemy. His skilful, spirited, and patriotic conduct, on all occasions where he was called upon to act, imparted a protection and confidence to our countrymen, which completely fulfilled their expectations of him, and without doubt those of the government in sending him there.

8Our ships usually occupy from two to three years in making a voyage. Occasionally, necessity obliges them to go into port for provisions, water, and repairs; in some cases, amongst mere savages, and in others, inhospitable people, from whom they are liable to every species of fraud, imposition, and force, which require some competent power to awe and redress. As long as the struggle between the patriots and royalists continues, or even should that speedily end—as long as young and instable governments, as there naturally must be for many years to come, exist there, our whalemen will continue to require that countenance and support which the importance and prosperity of the trade to them, and to the country, eminently entitle them. It is, undoubtedly, a most hazardous business; involving many incidental and unavoidable sacrifices, the severity of which it seems cruel to increase by the neglect or refusal of a proper protection.

The seamen employed in the fishery, and particularly those from Nantucket, are 9composed of the sons and connexions of the most respectable families on the island; and, unlike the majority of the class or profession to which they belong, they labour not only for their temporary subsistence, but they have an ambition and pride among them which seeks after distinguishment and promotion. Almost all of them enter the service with views of a future command; and submit cheerfully to the hardships and drudgery of the intermediate stations, until they become thoroughly acquainted with their business.

There are common sailors, boat-steerers, and harpooners: the last of these is the most honourable and important. It is in this station, that all the capacity of the young sailor is elicited; on the dexterous management of the harpoon, the line, and the lance, and in the adventurous positions which he takes alongside of his enemy, depends almost entirely the successful issue of his attack; and more real chivalry is not often exhibited on the deck of a battle-ship, than is displayed by these hardy sons of the ocean, in some of their gallant exploits 10among the whales. Nursed in the dangers of their business, and exposed to the continual hazards and hardships of all seasons, climates, and weathers, it will not be surprising if they should become a fearless set of people, and pre-eminent in all the requisites of good seamen. Two voyages are generally considered sufficient to qualify an active and intelligent young man for command; in which time, he learns from experience, and the examples which are set him, all that is necessary to be known.

While on this subject, I may be allowed to observe that it would not be an unprofitable task in a majority of our respectable shipmasters in the merchant service, to look into the principles of conduct, and study the economical management of the captains of our whale-ships. I am confident many serviceable hints could be gathered from the admirable system by which they regulate their concerns. They would learn, also, what respect is due to the character and standing of a captain of a whale-ship, which those of the merchant service affect so much to undervalue. If the post of danger 11be the post of honour; and if merit emanates from exemplary private character, uncommon intelligence, and professional gallantry, then is it due to a great majority of the shipmasters of Nantucket, that they should be held above the operations of an invidious and unjust distinction. It is a curious fact that one does exist; and it is equally an illiberal, as an undeserved reproach upon them, which time and an acquaintance with their merits must speedily wipe away.

12The reader is requested to notice the following errors, which have resulted from the haste in transcribing the original narrative.

Page 23,

line 2, for “one vows,” read are now.


line 15, for “one,” read, none.


line 11, for “keeled,” read, heeled.


line 8, for “of,” read, and.


line 9, for “momentous,” read momentary.


line 6, for “Mather,” read Matthew.


line 9, after “ourselves,” insert it.


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