The Pilgrims were landlubbers. When they arrived in Provincetown and then in Plymouth, whales were still plentiful and close to shore; native tribes hunted the whales in canoes, forcing them to beach themselves. The white settlers soon followed their example, but according to English law, the king had rights to beached whales. The Plymouth colony thought it had the right to beached whales.

It soon became a moot question, as whales began moving farther out to sea. Most English people preferred to farm, anyway; but Provincetown was different, and in 1737 every male resident was in one of twelve whalers hunting off Greenland.