Early whaling contract

This is one of the earliest documents in our whaling collection, and is a contract between “James Wood Indian of Plymouth in the County of Plymouth in New England” and “Joseph Bartlett of the Town and County of Plymouth aforesaid” which served to “bind and oblige” Wood to “go with the said Bartlett on a whaling voyage.” The document is signed by Bartlett and Wood (who leaves an “X” as his mark), witnessed by two Justices of the Peace, and dated November 12, 1723.

Wood agrees to serve until the end of the winter season, and also the next season (April 1 to October 1) and the following winter season, for which Wood has already received 7 pounds, and will further get 2 shillings per day of work, plus one eighth of the profits. This sounds like a great deal, although it is mitigated by the fact that in this period the British goverment required colonial whalers to export oil and bone solely through English ports, where it was charged with a duty. British whalers, on the other hand, were entitled to “stimulus” money intended to bolster the industry in competition with the Dutch–in 1724 Parliament passed a provision that whale products taken in English vessels with an English master and a crew of not more than two-thirds foreign were to be admitted free of duty for seven years.

According to Elmo Hohman’s seminal study The American Whaleman (1928), “When the whaling knowledge and dexterity of the Indians were combined with the heavier boats and implements of the colonists, the percentage of captures rose materially. As a result it was common for the two parties to enter into partnerships which involved the joint use of native labor and of white capital. As early as 1650, for instance, the settlers at Southampton, Long Island, were employing members of the neighboring tribes to man their boats, and were allowing them a given percentage of the captured oil in lieu of wages. At times the terms of these whaling agreements were inscribed in the town books, as at Easthampton on April 2, 1688. On that day Jacobus Skallenger and others hired certain Indians to engage in whaling from November 1 to April 1 at three shillings per day apiece, with the whites furnishing all necessary equipment.”


1 thought on “Early whaling contract

  1. Thanks for this and other comments in this post. I miss PPL and the very special Special Collections Department. I knew Lance and the people at PPL back before all the recent turmoil with the City. While I was at PPL we opened two new branches and did a major renovation of the main Empire Street building. At that time we also used the beautiful Empire Street entrance.

    I miss my friends at PPL.

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