G.W. Blunt White Library

List of American Whaling Ports, 1784-1928, with Number of Vessels and Voyages from Each and Their Rank by Vessels and Voyages



We have been asked rather frequently about the importance of Mystic as a whaling port. It seems that because the last surviving whaling vessel, the ship Charles W. Morgan built in New Bedford in 1841, is part of the Museum, people tend to think that Mystic was one of the major American whaling ports. We have always said that Mystic was not a major whaling center without actually knowing just exactly where she ranked in comparison to other ports.

The purpose of this bulletin then is to compare Mystic with all of the 71 other ports from which whaling vessels sailed between 1784 and 1928. Reliable statistics for earlier years are not readily available. Hence, this bulletin is limited to these years. As will be seen below, Mystic ranked seventeenth in the number of vessels and fourteenth in number of voyages to put this another way, about one out of every 100 vessels sailed out of Mystic, or one out of every 120 voyages was made from here. Mystic's small neighbor, Stonington, on the other hand, sent out one out of every 55 vessels and one out of every 70 voyages. This does not necessarily mean that Mystic was America's fourteenth or seventeenth most important whaling port. Other factors which need to be measured to determine the rank of importance of the various ports include the aggregate tonnage of all the vessels sailing from the several ports, the amount of oil and bone returned in them and the value thereof.

One can readily understand that one port that had 10 ships which made 30 voyages of three duration should rank higher than another which had 10 schooners which also made 30 voyages but of much shorter duration. As this bulletin is set up, these two hypothetical ports would rank equally high. Depending upon their names, the less important one might even rank higher here because of the alphabetical listing of ports with equal numbers of vessels and voyages.

To determine the aggregate tonnage of all 72 ports with the total returns and the value thereof and to work out a satisfactory formula which would enable one to accurately rank the American whaling ports in the order of their importance would be quite difficult. It is hoped, however, that in spite of its obvious shortcomings the ranking attempted by this bulletin can serve as an indicator until these more complicated factors can be worked out.

If one were able, at this late date, to tabulate all the whaling voyages prior to 1784, there might possibly be some changes in the rank of some of the ports. Alexander Starbuck was unable to do this nearly a century ago when he prepared his History of the American Whale Fishery and it is unlikely that one could do it today with any degree of accuracy. It is safe to say, however, that the early activity was centered at Cape Cod, Nantucket and Long Island.

The following summary statistics seem to be worthy of note. Of the 72 ports from which whaling vessels sailed, 20 had only 1 vessel, 25 had between 2 and 10 vessels, 10 had between 11 and 25 vessels, 8 had between 26 and 50 vessels, 2 had between 51 and 100 vessels and 7 had over 100 vessels. Twelve ports had only 1 voyage, 28 had between 2 and 25 voyages, 19 had between 26 and 100 voyages, 6 had between 101 and 500 voyages, 5 had between 501 and 1000 voyages and 2 had over 1000 voyages. Hence, 7 ports, or 10% of the total, had about two-thirds of the vessels and three fourths of the voyages. The other 90% of the ports had only one third of the vessels and one-fourth of the voyages.

All of the statistical data contained in this list below have been taken from Alexander Starbuck, History of the American Whale Fishery, and Reginald B. Hegarty, Returns of Whaling Vessels Sailing From American Ports. Whatever errors either of these volumes may contain are, of course, included in this bulletin. It is widely known for example, that Starbuck failed to include some vessels which are known to have made whaling voyages and that he listed other vessels which never existed. Probably every major collection of whaling logbooks includes records of a couple of voyages which are not in Starbuck. Nevertheless, the number of errors is probably not large enough to have a significant effect upon the ranking that this bulletin attempts to establish.

Perhaps some statements of procedure are in order so that the reader will better understand this bulletin. The years listed under "Dates of Sailings" represent the earliest and latest date at which vessels sailed from the various ports. In many cases, especially during the 19th century, the last whaling vessel from a given port may well have returned from its voyage as much as three years from the date of sailing. In several cases, the last vessel to sail was wrecked or condemned in a foreign port. Hence, it never returned. For this reason it seemed logical that the final date in the list below should be the year of sailing rather than that of returning.

When two more ports had the same number of vessels or voyages, they have been ranked in alphabetical order. This, we realize: is rather an arbitrary arrangement but it seemed to be a valid one in view of the complications one would encounter in attempting to work out a formula which would make possible the true evaluation of a given port's importance.

At the end of the list below the reader will note a total of 2718 vessels. This is not a completely accurate figure for the number of different vessels engaged in whaling, as numerous vessels sailed from more than one port and some from as many as three or four different ports. Since these vessels were counted under each port the total given below is somewhat larger than the actual number of American whaling vessels. If one were to deduct these duplications, the correct total would probably fall between 2150 and 2200 vessels.

In counting the number of vessels and voyages for each port, the index to Starbuck was used for all activity up to 1876. Hegarty was used after that date. Every effort was made not to count a vessel listed by Hegarty for a given port which had already been listed by Starbuck. We also did our best not to count a vessel more than once in Hegarty's list.

 Rank by
Vessels

 Rank
by
Voyages

Name of Port

Dates of
Sailings

Number
Vessels

Number
Voyages

53

 61

Baltimore, Maryland 1833

1

1

54

62

Barnstable, Massachusetts 1846

1

1

32

29

Beverly, Massachusetts  1849-1873

7

33

8

12

Boston, Massachusetts 1784-1901

74

170

55

63 

Braintree, Massachusetts 1786

1

1

19

19

Bristol, Rhode Island 1786, 1827-1846

24

79

38

33

Bridgeport, Connecticut 1833-1846

4

22

56

64

Bucksport, Maine 1841

1

1

57

65

Chilmark, Massachusetts 1848

1

1

28

26

Cold Spring, New York 1837-1857

9

38

20

21

Dartmouth, Massachusetts 1784-1878

24

65

36

43

Dorchester, Massachusetts 1833-1837

5

8

58

66 

Duxbury, Massachusetts 1841

1

1

45

48

East Haddam, Connecticut 1794, 1836-1838

2

4

59

67

Edenton, North Carolina 1831

1

1

9

10

Edgartown, Massachusetts 1816-1894

59

178

 7

7

Fairhaven, Massachusetts  1815-1876

115

534

22

22

Fall River, Massachusetts 1832-1860

20

60

26

23

Falmouth, Massachusetts 1820-1859

13

51

46

51

Freetown, Massachusetts 1841-1844

2

3

33

38

Gloucester, Massachusetts 1788-1794,1833-1853

7

11

23

17

Greenport, New York 1828-1857

18

90

60

46

Greenwich, Rhode Island 1807-1810

1

5

61

53

Groton, Connecticut 1866-1868

1

2

62

68

Hartford, Connecticut 1886

1

1

63

54

Hingham, Massachusetts 1785-1786

1

2

27

27

Holmes' Hole, Massachusetts 1816-1862

12

35

18

24

Hudson, New York 1786-1841

25

50

34

28

Lynn, Massachusetts 1833-1853

7

35

47

55

Marblehead, Massachusetts 1822, 1833

2

2

21

15

Marion or Sippican, Massachusetts 1840-1885

21

98

10

9

Mattapoisett or Rochester, Massachusetts 1816-1864

50

198

17

14

Mystic, Connecticut 1832-1860

28

100

2

2

Nantucket, Massachusetts 1784-1869

364

1402

1

1

New Bedford, Massachusetts 1784-1927

806

4303

39

49

New Haven, Connecticut 1820-1822, 1858

4

4

3

5

New London, Connecticut 1784-1899

196

863

48

41

New Suffolk, New York 1838-1850

2

9

13

20

New York, New York 1792-1877

47

69

49

47

Newark, New Jersey 1835-1841

2

5

43

44

Newburgh, New York 1832-1837

3

7

30

35

Newburyport, Massachusetts 1785, 1833-1869

8

17

15

16

Newport, Rhode Island 1789, 1816-1856

39

93

40

42

Norwich, Connecticut 1800-1837, 1905-1909

4

9

 31

31

Orleans, Massachusetts 1851-1861

8

28

64

69

Perth Amboy, New Jersey 1824

1

1

50

56

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1818-1824

2

2

25

25

Plymouth, Massachusetts 1785-1846

14

45

65

57

Portland, Maine 1834-1838

1

2

41

39

Portsmouth, New Hampshire 1832-1845

4

11

66

70

Portsmouth, Rhode Island 1827

1

1

35

34

Poughkeepsie, New York 1832-1841

7

18

24

30

Providence, Rhode Island 1789-1854

15

33

5

3

Provincetown, Massachusetts 1821-1920

161

902

67

71

Quincy, Massachusetts 1849

1

1

6

6

Sag Harbor, New York 1784-1871

116

574

16

18

Salem, Massachusetts 1818-1868

36

82

4

4

San Francisco, California 1851-1928

164

866

51

37

Sandwich, Massachusetts 1851-1862

2

12

44

40

Somerset, Massachusetts 1839-1848, 1912

3

10

68

52

Stamford, Connecticut 1907-1913

1

3

11

13

Stonington, Connecticut 1821-1891

50

167

69

58

Tisbury, Massachusetts 1867-1868

1

2

70

72

Tiverton, Rhode Island 1822

1

1

52

50

Truro, Massachusetts 1850-1852

2

4

29

32

Wareham, Massachusetts 1794-1857

9

27

12

11

Warren, Rhode Island 1821-1861

50

178

42

45

Wellfleet, Massachusetts 1785-1786, 1867

4

6

14

8

Westport, Massachusetts 1811-1879

45

263

37

36

Wilmington, Delaware 1834-1841

5

13

71

59

Wiscasset, Maine 1834-1848

1

2

72

60

Yarmouth, Massachusetts 1847-1849

1

2

 TOTALS  

2,718

11,908

Schultz, Charles R., Mystic Seaport, G.W. Blunt White Library, 1969.