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Robert Archer. Photo from The Whaling Museum

The Whaling Museum in Cold Spring Harbor welcomed special guest and Huntington resident Robert Archer to its museum last week. Bob’s great-great grandfather, Benjamin Archer (1825-1868), sailed as a greenhand, or an inexperienced crew member on Cold Spring Harbor’s whaleship, the Monmouth. According to FindAGrave, Benjamin was an immigrant from England, and he married Phebe Wall (1827-1898) from Ireland. At the young age of 17, he signed on as a greenhand on the bark Monmouth, as shown in the Museum’s archives.

The Monmouth was Cold Spring Harbor’s first and smallest vessel, built in Massachusetts at 100  feet long. John H. Jones, agent for the Cold Spring Whaling Company, purchased the Monmouth in  1836. The bark had a relatively long career with multiple whaling voyages for the Long Island  village.

Benjamin sailed on the Monmouth from 1842-1843, which journeyed to the Indian, North Atlantic,  and South Atlantic oceans. The captain of the voyage was the well-liked Hiram B. Hedges of East  Hampton (1820-ca.1861), who himself started as a greenhand and worked his way up to captain.  Although just a few years older than Benjamin, Hiram was known as “always kind to his men, and  highly respected by them.” He was also “the handsomest captain who made port in the Sandwich  Islands in his time.” Benjamin would have had to follow Hiram’s no-liquor regulation on the  voyage.

Like all greenhands, Benjamin’s earnings were small – a cut of 1/150. As a whole, the voyage was  comparatively short and profitable, yielding 75 barrels of sperm oil, 1,550 barrels of whale oil, and  12,400 pounds of baleen & whalebone. One voyage seems to have been enough for Benjamin,  because we do not see record of him returning on a future voyage. However, he kept his connection  to working on the waters, sailing as a local captain of several schooners and sloops in the 1850’s-60s in Cold Spring Harbor (you can check out his licenses in the museum’s digital collection).

1855 License for the sloop Dispatch 

Benjamin had four children; all but one lived past childhood. Our last record of Benjamin’s  maritime career was an 1865 license; he passed away just a few years later in 1868. Benjamin  was only in his early 40s.

Interestingly, Capt. Hiram B. Hedges – like Benjamin – also retired from whaling. Although  Benjamin and many of his descendants remained local to our area, 37-year old Hiram called it  quits and moved to Oregon with his wife and son where he became a farmer before vanishing  around 1861, possibly in a boating accident – or by committing suicide while facing onsetting Huntington’s disease, which ran in the Hedges family. He left behind three young children.  (See “The Woman Who Walked Into the Sea.”)

Bob Archer noticed some of the museum’s recent Facebook posts, and he came to see the  collection for himself in person. As an added connection to the museum, Robert’s wife, Kathleen,  was a descendant of Captain James Wright, whose home is used today for the museum offices  and collection storage.

Interestingly, Bob shared that years ago, Cold Spring Harbor was not loally regarded as the  “well-off” location it is thought as today — Cold Spring Harbor residents were nicknamed humble  “clammies”!

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About The Whaling Museum & Education Center 

The Whaling Museum & Education Center is the only museum in the world open year-round which explores  the whaling history of the Long Island region. The Museum engages the community in exploring the diversity  of our whaling heritage and its impacts to enrich and inform our lives. The museum is located at 301 Main  Street, Cold Spring Harbor, NY 11724. Visit cshwhalingmuseum.org and follow The Whaling Museum on  Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @cshwhalingmuseum

Offers insight into Indigenous maritime history

By Tara Mae

For thousands of years, the Shinnecock (“People of the Stony Shore”) have depended on the water and maritime industries. 

Expressed mainly through contemporary artwork, first person narratives, and historic artifacts, the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum and Education Center’s new exhibit, Shinnecock Artists and Long Island’s First Whalers, explores the often overlooked history of Indigenous whalers as well as the relationship between Indigenous people of Long Island and the sea.  

“We wanted to spotlight the fascinating but under-told maritime history of the Shinnecock people. We used this exhibit as a launch to spotlight history as a whole,” Executive Director Nomi Dayan explained. 

This dynamic is largely represented through the work of Shinnecock artists, especially Jeremy Dennis and David Martine, who contributed photography and oil paintings. Interactive elements are also incorporated into the installation, such as a children’s activity table and videos by Shinnecock artist Shane Weeks. 

“We took a conscious step of staff stepping back and collaborating with several native artists, to spotlight native voices,” Dayan added. 

Relics from Long Island’s Indigenous nautical past are showcased, like scrub brushes, items extracted from a midden (an old  trash heap), and a small whalebone paddle. “I like how Nomi chose to frame our heritage and history through the lens of whaling … It’s a good way to show whaling as part of our history,” said Dennis. 

Dependence on the ocean for survival influenced many aspects of tribal life, encompassing arts, values, and culture. However, much of the most accessible scholarship focuses on the European settlers’ relationship to the sea and overlooks local Indigenous history.

“Any exhibit like this is important for examining the Native American culture of Long Island, especially pertaining to the history of whaling and maritime culture of the local tribes, which were big parts of the culture for thousands of years. Native American culture doesn’t have much mainstream recognition except in inaccurate movie and television portrayals,” Martine said.

Open to the public through 2022, the display is a manifestation of the museum’s concerted effort to elevate and amplify the stories of traditionally otherized groups and diversify the stories the museum presents, according to Dayan.  

“It came out of a strategic initiative … we prioritize telling stories of historically marginalized people. Pivoting to tell stories of Indigenous people addresses several needs, including strengthening visibility of the Shinnecock people, who have a long history of marginalization and dispossession. A preliminary study of the public indicated that it had limited prior knowledge of the Shinnecock, but interest in the tribe’s ways and culture was high,” she said. 

Dennis similarly recognizes the impact of this exhibit. “There is a misunderstanding that the Shinnecock are no longer here, so creating any type of visual art or expression is a good start of showing that we are still here,” he said.  

Like other Indigenous communities, the Shinnecock are currently being disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In highlighting the work of Indigenous artists, the museum expands patrons’ awareness of the Shinnecock tribe’s continued presence on Long Island and broadens their understanding of its history, according to Dayan. 

To kick off programming for the exhibit, a virtual artist chat with Jeremy Dennis will be held on February 17 at 6 p.m. Dennis will discuss his landscape photography project, On This Site — Indigenous Long Island. Tickets may be obtained online at www.cshwhalingmuseum.org/events, under the “Virtual Chats” tab.

The Whaling Museum is located at 301 Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor and is currently open on Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. Tickets to the exhibit may be purchased online at www.cshwhalingmuseum.org/visit. Social distancing will be observed and masks are mandatory for entry. For further information, call 631-367-3418.

Photos courtesy of Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor


The Mulford Farmhouse. Photo from East Hampton Historical Society

By Nomi Dayan

Nomi Dayan

Before George Washington, Paul Revere and Alexander Hamilton, the first – and feistiest! – patriots were none other than Long Island whalers. The first Colonists were English Puritans who arrived to the east end of Long Island in 1640. At the time, the area was considered an extension of Connecticut and New England – seen as remote and separate from the Dutch-ruled western end of Lange Eylant. 

These pioneers were initially farmers, but they quickly became seasonal entrepreneurs after they noticed their enormous marine neighbors spouting by their shores: blubber-rich right whales.

Whaling companies were launched during the winter months, hunting whales in rowboats on frigid beaches with the labor of local Native Americans. In large iron trypots on the sand, whaling crews stewed blubber until it melted into liquid gold – whale oil. Whale oil was used chiefly for illumination, and later in time, for a variety of manufacturing purposes. Oil even served as a currency (local schoolteachers were paid in whale oil). 

For the next 20 years, Colonists worked to perfect this trade. Whaling quickly became part of community life, with required whale-spotting shifts from able-bodied men. School even let out from December to April so children could help spot and process whales. Oil was shipped to New England rather than New Amsterdam to avoid Dutch taxes.

This trade route was suddenly halted when new commerce rules were set in place by England. The entire Long Island was now a part of New York. All goods were to be exported through New York City. The whale was a “royal fish,” from which the crown demanded a 20 to 50 percent tax. Eastenders were horrified.   

The battle between whalers and England began. Whalers were outraged at taxation without representation – foreshadowing the defiant Boston Tea Party a century later. They rebelled by turning Long Island into a smuggler’s haven, avoiding taxes by continuing to ship their oil to Boston or New London.  

The Mulford Farmhouse is one of the oldest in Suffolk County

A string of upset New York governors tried to enforce the tax – generally unsuccessfully. When the Duke of York investigated how many whales were caught in the past 6 years – and what his share was – he found no records had been kept. Lord Cornbury, a later New York governor, whined that “the illegal trade” was still carrying on between Long Island and New England. 

With Colonists’ protests falling on deaf ears, the towns of East Hampton, Southampton and Southold bypassed the governor of New York and submitted a petition to the court of England to be made a free corporation or continue under Connecticut rule. Their detailed list of complaints is similar to the tune of complaints in the Declaration of Independence. Their plea was denied. Their solution? Ignore the whale tax anyway. 

Colonists continued to smuggle the majority of oil to New England. New York merchants themselves were also flouting the law, which required all international trade to go through England. Instead, they traded directly with the West Indies, exchanging whale oil for rum, sugar and cocoa. 

Taking international trade into their own hands, New Yorkers who felt particularly courageous loaded up their ships and sailed with their goods to Madagascar, where there was an anarchist colony of none other than – pirates! Doing business with pirates was highly profitable, since it was all tax free. An inspector noted that in 1695, Long Island “was a receptacle for pirates and the people generally a lawless and unruly set.”

Whalers continued to protest. One of the pluckiest whalers who objected to the whale tax was Samuel Mulford of East Hampton, who lived from 1644 to 1725. He was a bold and somewhat quirky fellow. He championed the cause of the whalers, himself a financially successful owner of a whaling company of 24 men. 

Elected as a representative to New York Assembly in 1683, Mulford was expelled from the assembly twice for his outspoken demands; Colonists simply re-elected him and sent him back. When he sailed to London to protest the whale oil tax, he sewed fishhooks in his pockets to deter pickpockets during his long wait outside Buckingham Palace. 

Ultimately, the crown eased taxation. Mulford didn’t get to see this victory, as this announcement came five years after his death. Encouragingly, various acts were passed by the British Parliament to support the lucrative whaling industry, but Colonists’ frustrations toward their relationship with England never really went away. During the Revolutionary War, which brought whaling to a standstill, locals repurposed whaleboats for guerilla warfare against British efforts.

After America won its independence, a new era opened for whaling. In 1785, The Lucy left Sag Harbor to whale offshore Brazil; she returned with an unprecedented 360 barrels of whale oil. Americans took notice. To encourage trade, George Washington then authorized the first lighthouse in New York State to be built, the Montauk Lighthouse. The hundreds of whaleships that followed The Lucy would have sailed home from their global voyages directed by this lighthouse – illuminated by none other than whale oil.

Nomi Dayan is the executive director at The Whaling Museum & Education Center.

Children practice weaving at a previous SeaFaire event. Photo courtesy of Whaling Museum of Cold Spring Harbor

By Rita J. Egan

Staff members of the The Whaling Museum & Education Center in Cold Spring Harbor have been behind closed doors since early September working on a number of exciting new projects. On Oct. 2, the doors will open once again as the museum hosts their annual SeaFaire celebration and launches the museum’s brand new permanent exhibit, Thar She Blows!

Celebrating Long Island’s maritime heritage, SeaFaire features craftspeople demonstrating felting and needle punching, rug hooking, calligraphy, weaving, and there will be a silversmith and jewelry maker on hand, too. Visitors will also be able to participate in carving scrimshaw, building a model sailboat and creating a candle of their very own, according to Judy Palumbo, community relations and development manager.

At last year’s event, Palumbo said it was wonderful to see children forgetting their electronics and marveling at artisans. She said one group of little girls spread their blanket out and just watched one woman weaving. “They were mesmerized,” she said. She said the staff is excited about the event as well as the debut of Thar She Blows!, which will bring many of the artifacts that visitors have seen in the past at the museum together in a cohesive story.

A child enjoys weaving at last year’s event. Photo courtesy of Whaling Museum of Long Island

Nomi Dayan, executive director, said the exhibit stems from her research while writing the Images of America book, “Whaling on Long Island,” released in the beginning of this year. The executive director said the exhibit features a painted mural depicting the cross-section of a whaling boat. In addition to the mural, museumgoers will find maritime-inspired activities, artifacts mounted to the wall and informational panels. Dayan said the hope is that visitors will connect to Long Island’s whaling history.

“It was difficult putting it together because Long Island has such a rich whaling heritage. Right after Southampton was established in 1644, whaling companies sprang up,” she said. “To really understand Long Island is to understand how whaling affected it. So it was difficult trying to boil down this story onto just a couple of walls.” Dayan added that while the museum’s former standing exhibit focused on Cold Spring Harbor’s contribution to whaling, the new one takes an expanded look at Long Island’s involvement in the industry as a whole.

According to Dayan, visitors will find a light-up map featuring local former ports and a recruitment station where guests will be able to ask each other questions to see if they would have been qualified to be a whaler, such as, “Can you eat food with cockroaches in it?” Museum guests will find a scent box where they will be able to smell what cooking blubber and a fo’c’sle smelled like. A fo’c’sle, which is short for forecastle, was the part of the ship where the bottom-ranking whalers slept in cramped bunk beds in filth and grime, a scent that Dayan pointed out will reinforce to the learners what issues whalers faced.

The executive director said visitors will find more fresh additions to the museum including lifesize cardboard cutouts throughout the museum. The new collection enables visitors to learn more about the various personalities that made up the whaling industry, from the rich captain who built a mansion out east to a lowly greenhand, according to Dayan.

“We wanted to show the diverse range of cultures and backgrounds of people who made up the industry. So, that’s something else fresh that people can anticipate,” she said. Dayan said the goal of an event such as SeaFaire as well as the new exhibit is for visitors to come away with a deeper understanding of local maritime heritage. “We want our history to be a foundation for the future. Hopefully the crafts making and fun of it will open people’s eyes to the tremendous story here.”

The Whaling Museum & Education Center, 301 Main Street, Cold Spring Harbor, hosts SeaFaire on Sunday, Oct. 2 from noon to 3 p.m., rain or shine. Admission is $6 for adults, $5 for seniors and children. Some activities require an extra fee. For more information, call 631-367-3418 or visit www.cshwhalingmuseum.org.