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Monday, April 29, 2013

Maritime Monday

I have a confession to make:  When I started this blog it was with the intention of sharing the genealogical research information that I had learned during my course at BU, and also the many new sources I was discovering every day.

However, I also had an ulterior motive.  I wanted to start the day writing a short blog post to jump-start my own daily writing sessions.  In essence - to "oil" the writing engine for my personal projects, which are specifically maritime-related.

The blog quickly took on a vital life of its own and as any blogger knows, can actually consume a fair amount of daily writing hours which at times, can end up robbing a few hours from my long-term writing projects.

Solution? Taking a cue from my fellow bloggers who post "special interest days" on their blogs,  I formulated a plan. In an effort to kill two birds with one stone, once a week I will be allotting a blog post specifically to maritime interests: sea captains (and their families), ships, commerce, whaling, adventures on the seas, and of course...shipwrecks.  "Maritime Monday."    I hope you will look forward to reading "Maritime Monday" as much as I will enjoy writing it.

HARLAN PAGE NYE  : 1834 - 1860

I know you will recognize Harlan.  He's been featured briefly in this blog before.  Harlan Page Nye's unusual gravestone in the North Falmouth Cemetery tells the tale of his death:  "Taken down by a line attached to a whale..."  Harlan died at the young age of 23, in the cold waters off Alaska, 21 Aug 1860.  Last night I photographed his stone again, surrounded by spring flowers.

More is known about Harlan and his family, now.

Death record for Harlan P. Nye, died "At Sea"
Capt. Charles Jarvis Nye and Prudence Price were Harlan's parents.  The town of Falmouth has in its possession a fascinating and detailed accounts ledger written by three generations of Nye men: Shubael, David, and Charles J. (Harlan's g-grandfather, grandfather, and father.  The ledger entries which detail life in this seaside and farming community,  span a century, 1768 - 1871, and come to an end at the death of Harlan's father,  Charles.

From local records, we know that the Nye men were farmers with personal involvement in coastal trade.  Successful farmers in the area often built their own vessels, gathered a crew, and shipped their own goods around the Cape and Islands.  There are many "farmers" in Falmouth that also hold the title "Captain."  And many sons of farmers and captains shipped off to sea in whalers to earn their living.

Harlan Page Nye was one of these sons.  The New Bedford Shipping and Whaling Transcript newspaper lists Harlan P. Nye, of North Falmouth, Mass. as one of the "boatsteerers" on the whaling bark,  J. D. Thompson, Capt. William Waterman.   (Click on all images for larger view)

The ship sailed from New Bedford 31 Aug 1858 bound for the North Pacific.  Whaling crew list archives held at the New Bedford Public Library also show Harlan P. Nye as "stearsman."  The ship carried men from the local area and as far away as New Jersey.

The J. D. Thompson would return to New Bedford in 1861 almost three years to the day - without Harlan Page Nye aboard.  He was pulled into the colds seas by a whale, exactly a year before the J. D. Thompson would return to port.

About the J. D. Thompson:

The bark was built in 1855 in New Bedford, and abandoned, trapped in ice,  in the Arctic seas in 1871.  She was most likely named for John D. Thompson Esq., a prominent New Jersey statesman and businessman.

Artist William Bradford (1823-1891, b. Fairhaven, Mass.) a well-known painter of ships of the Arctic seas,  painted a dramatic portrait of the majestic ship:

Whaling bark J. D. Thompson, by William Bradford, oil painting

The following list shows her whaling voyages, including Harlan P. Nye's fateful trip, and as far as records seem to indicate - his first and only whaling trip ever.

How did Harlan Page Nye die?  Anyone familiar with the term "Nantucket Sleigh Ride" will understand.  Traditionally, in the 1800's, whales were harpooned with lines attached, often dragging the whalers long distances before the whale died - a dangerous pursuit sometimes ending in the sinking of the boat, or loss of crew members attached to those lines.  This 1876 painting by an unknown artist, shows whaling in the Azores - a good depiction of a line attached to a whale, and a courageous man - much like 23 year old Harlan Page Nye - on the other end.

A line on a whale (click for larger image)

Sources for this article:;; newspapers:
National Maritime Digital Library:
New Bedford Public Library; Whaling Archives;; William Bradford, painter:
The Book of Falmouth; edited by Mary Lou Smith, "Shubael Nye Account Book," by William Dunkle;  publisher: Falmouth Historical Society, 1986.  pp 296-297
Original gravestone photograph by AncestryInk, 2013, all rights reserved.

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