Native American Whalemen and the World

Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race

By Nancy Shoemaker

320 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 11 halftones, 3 maps, 4 tables, appends., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3612-2
    Published: August 2017
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2257-6
    Published: April 2015
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4758-4
    Published: April 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2258-3
    Published: April 2015

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In the nineteenth century, nearly all Native American men living along the southern New England coast made their living traveling the world's oceans on whaleships. Many were career whalemen, spending twenty years or more at sea. Their labor invigorated economically depressed reservations with vital income and led to complex and surprising connections with other Indigenous peoples, from the islands of the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean. At home, aboard ship, or around the world, Native American seafarers found themselves in a variety of situations, each with distinct racial expectations about who was "Indian" and how "Indians" behaved. Treated by their white neighbors as degraded dependents incapable of taking care of themselves, Native New Englanders nevertheless rose to positions of command at sea. They thereby complicated myths of exploration and expansion that depicted cultural encounters as the meeting of two peoples, whites and Indians.

Highlighting the shifting racial ideologies that shaped the lives of these whalemen, Nancy Shoemaker shows how the category of "Indian" was as fluid as the whalemen were mobile.

About the Author

Nancy Shoemaker is professor of history at the University of Connecticut.
For more information about Nancy Shoemaker, visit the Author Page.


“Meticulously researched and skillfully structured.”--Journal of American History

"A monumental, erudite study of a fleeting industry that was buttressed by a racial and ethnic mosaic. . . .  A well-told tale of prejudice, perseverance, and pride of accomplishment. . . . A welcome addition to the literature of whaling and maritime history."--The Northern Mariner/Le marin du nord

“Immeasurably improve[s] our knowledge of Native American whalers, their lives, and their work. No doubt [this book] will become [a] historical classic.”--Journal of Pacific History

“Challenging earlier studies that focus almost entirely on the exploitative aspects of whaling or on the stereotypical images of Indian harpoonists, the author shows that Native Americans served at every level of the industry, including as captains of ships.”--Choice

“[An] outstanding and wide-ranging work that should offer a lot to geographers interested in how cultural encounters and the contingencies of race played out in one of the world’s first truly globalized and mobile industries.”--Journal of Historical Geography

“[A] rich, detailed, and nuanced portrait of Native American whalemen.”--International Journal of Maritime History