Provincetown History Snippets: Moby-Dick and Other Whales
While the home port of the Pequod was Nantucket, as we celebrate the annual reading and celebration of Moby-Dick here in Provincetown this weekend, we can remember the novel—and the whaling tradition that Ptown shares.
Written in 1851, Moby-Dick recounts the adventures of the narrator Ishmael as he sails on the whaling ship Pequod under the command of the monomaniacal Captain Ahab.
Sales of the book were tepid at best (Melville had to take a day job after its publication), but the author did visit Nantucket where he met the broken-down George Pollard Jr., who had captained the Essex—the ship that had been attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in an 1820 incident that had inspired Melville’s novel.
Provincetown’s whalers sailed to exotic ports of call and brought back sophistication and cosmopolitan flavor to the town. They were savvy businessmen and controlled every aspect of whaling and fishing, contributing to the town’s prosperity. The American whaling industry declined because of the depletion of whale stocks, the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania in 1859, the high cost of outfitting a ship, and—for Provincetown—the Portland Gale, which destroyed the town’s two major whaling wharfs.