New England whaling crews were made up of a diverse community of men.
They often included local New Englanders, white Europeans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Polynesians. Whaling attracted all sorts of men because whaling ships offered more freedom and less prejudice than other jobs or trades at that time, thanks in large part to the Quaker ship owners and captains that dominated the industry in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most Quakers were abolitionists and active in the Underground Railroad, which brought them into contact with fugitive slaves. Quakers often did not hesitate to hire nonwhite men as crew members or waterfront workers. Ships also picked up crew along the way. Cape Verde, a group of islands off the coast of northern Africa, became a regular stopping place for whalers to enlist additional crew. Sometimes, a captain’s wife and children went on the journey, too.
The ship’s owner bore the expense of outfitting his vessel. He made sure it was supplied with food and water, as well as the material to repair its whaleboats, to replace frayed rigging, and to mend or replace sails. The owner’s profit came only at the conclusion of a journey and after the crew had been paid.
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