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Yankee Sperm Whalers in Brazilian Waters, and the Decline of the Portuguese Whale Fishery (1773-1801)

  • Dauril Alden (a1)

On April 28, 1774, the Boston News-Letter published at the bottom of its first page the following “extract” of a letter it had recently received from Fayal, the Azores:

By a Vessel that arrived here last Month from Rio de Janeiro in the Brazils, we have accounts of a small Whaling Brig belonging to some Part of North-America, putting in there for Refreshments, but that Part of the crew were prevailed on either by fair or foul Means to enter on board a Portuguese Scow, to go on a Cruise of three Months a Whaling…. That the Brig still remained there in October last, with only the Captain and three People on board…. That the Portuguese provided themselves with Harpoons and other Necessaries, agreeable to the English Model, and were gone in Search of Spermaceti Whales, a Trade they have hitherto been entirely ignorant of, and are very desirous of acquiring some Knowledge in. All the oil they used to make in the Brazils was from the Bone Whales, and those they caught in such Abundance in open boats along the Shore that they migh[t] undersell any other Europeans if they were expert in their Business, but they never venture out of Sight of Shore.

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1 Lat. 17° S., near Ponta da Baleia.

2 de Castro, Eugenio (ed.), Diario da navegação de Pero Lopes de Sousa, 1530–1532, 1 (Rio de Janeiro, 1927), 354355.

3 de Léry, Jean, Viagem à terra do Brasil, tr. Sérgio Milliet with notes by Ayrosa, Plínio (São Paulo [1941]), pp. 9798.

4 For other sixteenth-century references to whales along the Brazilian littoral see Stetson, John B. Jr., tr. and ed., Magalhães, Pero [de Gandavo], The Histories of Brazil (2 v., New York, 1922), II, 7578; Cardim, Fernão, Tratados da terra e gente do Brasil, Caetano, Baptista, de Abreu, Capistrano, and Garcia, Rudolfo (eds.) (2d ed., São Paulo, 1939), p. 73 ; de Sousa, Gabriel Soares, Tratado descriptivo do Brasil em 1587 (Rio de Janeiro, 1879), ch. cxxv; and The admirable adventures and strange fortunes of Master Antonie Knivet …, 1591,” in Purchas, Samuel (ed.), Hakluytus Posthumus or Purchas His Pilgrimes …, 16 (Glasgow-New York, 1906), 193.

5 See the notes by Pirajá da Silva to the modern critical edition of de Sousa, Gabriel Soares, Notícia do Brasil (2 v., São Paulo, n. d.), II, 183188.

6 This is also the conclusion of Ellis, Myriam, Aspectos da pesca da baleia no Brasil colonial (São Paulo, 1958), pp. 1617.

7 There is no adequate history of whaling in colonial Brazil. Very useful is Ellis' Aspectos, really a series of notes based upon published and manuscript Portuguese sources but not English-language materials. Good use of the latter was made by Peterson, Beverly Winzler, “South Atlantic Whaling, 1603–1830,” Unpublished M.A. thesis (University of California, 1948); Mauro, Frédéric, Le Portugal et l’Atlantique au XVIIe siècle (1570–1670): Étude économique (Paris, 1960), pp. 277282, provides some additional information for the early seventeenth century; a particularly valuable contemporary survey is Jorge dos Anjos Correia, “Memoria,” Mar. 11, 1820, in de Souza Azevedo Pizarro, José e Araujo, , Memorias históricas do Rio de Janeiro, 9 (Rio de Janeiro, 1948), 260268.

8 See Jenkins, James T., A History of the Whale Fisheries. From the Basque Fisheries of the Tenth Century to the Hunting of the Finner Whale at the Present Date (London, 1921), chap. 3.

9 The only contemporary source we have for this event is do Salvador, Frei Vicente, História do Brasil (1500–1627) (4th ed., [São Paulo], 1954), Bk. IV, chap. 40.

10 Coarcy, Vivaldo, O Rio de Janeiro no século 17 (Rio de Janeiro, 1944), pp. 47, 116.

11 In addition to the lists of slave personnel published by Ellis, , Aspectos, pp. 5764, see “ Lista[s] das pessoas que se applicarão na safra das baleias na fábrica de Itaparica na[s] pesca[s] … de 1768 [e] 1774 … ,” in de Castro, Eduardo e Almeida, (comp.), Inventario dos documentos relativos ao Brasil existentes no Archivo de Marinha e Ultramar de Lisboa (8 v., Rio de Janeiro, 1913–1936), II, 295 [hereafter cited as IDBAMU.]

12 For the three preceeding paragraphs I have relied chiefly upon Ellis, Aspectos, chap. 5; Peterson, “South Atlantic Whaling,” chaps. 2-3; and a valuable anonymous description of whaling practices in Bahia written in Lisbon in 1771 and printed in IDBAMU, II, 253–254.

13 Peterson, , “South Atlantic Whaling,” pp. 6063; anon, report of 1771 cited above; “ Lista[s] das pessoas que se applicarão na safra das baleias … 1768 [e] 1774 “ and Correia, Anjos, “Memoria,” pp. 260261.

14 There is no full-length study of this important eighteenth-century capitalist. For references to his activities see Recordacoens de Jacome Ration … sobre ocurrencias do seu tempo em Portugal … 1747 a … 1810 … (London, 1813), pp. 243–246, and Ellis, , Aspectos, pp. 4142, and 48.

15 The discussion which follows is based primarily upon Starbuck, Alexander, “His-tory of the American Whale-Fishery from its Earliest Inception to the Year 1876,” U.S. Bureau of Fisheries, Report of the Commissioner for 1875–1876 (Washington, D.C, 1878), Appendix A, pp. 158, and the ablest of Starbuck's modern successors, Stackpole, Edouard A., The Sea-Hunters: the New England Whalemen during Two Centuries, 1635–1835 (New York, 1953), Parts 1 and 2.

16 Starbuck, , “History,” p. 5 n.

17 Ibid., p. 8.

18 Cf. Macy, Obed, The History of Nantucket: being a compendious Account of the first Settlement on the island by the English, together with the Rise and Progress of the Whale Fishery; … (Boston, 1835), p. 31.

19 This is not to say that shore-whaling ceased altogether, for according to Macy (ibid.) it was continued down to c. 1760.

20 Ibid., p. 36.

21 See Tower, Walter S., A History of the American Whale Fishery (Philadelphia, 1907), pp. 8687.

22 Ibid., p. 95.

23 Jenkins, A History of the Whale Fisheries, chaps. 3–4.

24 History of Massachusetts, II, 400, as quoted in Starbuck, , “History,” pp. 3738.

25 Credit for introducing the process in New England is disputed. Among the claimants is Abraham Rodrigues Rivera, father-in-law of Aaron Lopez. See Hedges, James B., The Browns of Providence Plantations: Colonial Years (Cambridge, Mass., 1952), p. 89, and sources cited there.

26 For the major developments in whaling during this quarter century see Macy, History of Nantucket, chaps. 4–5; Starbuck, , “History,” pp. 3662 ; and Stackpole, The Sea-Hunters, chaps. 3–6.

27 Bibliographical details concerning Lopez’ career are contained in Kohler, Max J., “The Lopez and Rivera Families of Newport,” American Jewish Historical Society, Publications, 2 (Washington, D.C, 1894), 100106; Bigelow, Bruce M., “Aaron Lopez: Colonial Merchant of Newport,” New England Quarterly, 4 (Oct., 1931), 757776 ; and in a sketch by the same author in Dictionary of American Biography, XI, 402–403; see also the index under “ Lopez, Aaron (Newport) “ in Hedges, Browns of Providence.

28 Kohler, Max J., “The Jews in Newport,” Amer. Jewish Hist. Soc, Pubs., 6 (1897), 6180.

29 For the price-fixing agreements of 1761 and 1763, see Mass. Hist. Soc, Colls., 7 ser., IX, 88–92, 97–100. The formation and breakdown of the trust are discussed in Hedges, , Browns of Providence, pp. 95103.

30 Starbuck, (”History,” p. 56) dates this incident as occurring in January, 1773, which appears several months too early. In February, 1774, the brig Montague, out of Boston, became the first American whaler to reach the Falkland Islands, and re-ported there that on her cruise down the coast of Brazil she had seen a vessel in distress near the Abrolhos. It is possible that this was the Leviathan. See Boyson, V.F., The Falkland Islands (Oxford, 1924), pp. 7576.

31 The movements of the Leviathan have been reconstructed from manuscript sources cited in the notes below.

32 Marquis of Lavradio (Viceroy of Brazil) to Desembargador Manoel F. da Silva e Veiga, Sept. 24, 1773, Private manuscript collection of Sr. Marcos Carneiro de Mendonça [hereafter cited as CMCM], cód. 2, f. 16v.

33 According to Macy, “It … became necessary [for Nantucketers] to resort to the continent for a considerable proportion of each crew, whence there were brought some Indians and a great many negroes. Many of the latter took their residence here, and became the heads of families. They built a cluster of houses near the South part of the Town, which is called New Guinea. Their inebriety and want of economy generally kept them poor, although they made good voyages.” Quoted without page citation in Stackpole, , The Sea-Hunters, p. 167.

34 Auto de preguntas, Jan. 17–18, 1774, CMCM, cód. 27, fols. 5-14r.

35 Lothrop to Lavradio, Nov. 30, 1773, Biblioteca Nacional, Rio de Janeiro [here-after cited BNRJ], 10, 4, 8 (unfoliated codex).

36 Lavradio to Martinho de Melo e Castro, Dec. 3 and 15, 1773, loc. cit.

37 The basis for the Secretary’s charge is not apparent in any of the documentation that I have seen, but the contention that this was the Leviathan's second voyage to Brazil is repeated in the act of confiscation cited in note 41.

38 Melo e Castro to Lavradio, Feb. 16, 1774, CMCM, cód. 13, fols. 37–40 (orig.); there is a copy in BNRJ, 1–2, 4, 6, n. 47.

39 [Quintela] to Francisco José da Fonseca, Feb. 16, June 14, Sept. 9, and Oct. 20, 1774, with a covering letter from Melo e Castro to Lavradio, Oct. 22, 1774, Arquivo Nacional, Rio de Janeiro, Col. 67, Liv. III, fols. 143r-146r.

40 [Quintela] to Fonseca, Sept. 9, 1774, cited above; portaría of Lavradio, Nov. 10, 1774, CMCM, cód. 2, f. 82v.

41 “ Sentença do bargantim Inglez, que andava na pesca das baleas &c,” CMCM, cód. 27, fols. 42–44, 46–47 (two drafts, the first undated, the second, in the same hand, dated Rio de Janeiro, Aug. 12, 1774).

42 Hayley and Hopkins to Lopez, [London], July 20, 1774, Mass. Hist. So., Colls., 7 ser., IX, 501–502.

43 Idem to idem, [London], Feb. 20, 1775, ibid., X, 9.

44 Mayn and Co. to Lopez, Lisbon, Sept. 26, 1775, ibid., X, 31.

45 Skiff and Pike to Lavradio, n. d. [1776], CMCM, cód. 27, f. III (orig.). Since Pike could barely write his name, Skiff was the probable author of the petition. Note the use of the first person singular in the text.

46 The brig still lay at anchor in Rio de Janeiro at the end of 1775. Lavradio to Bernardo de Salazar Sarmento Eça e Alarçao (desembargador ouvidor geral do crime), Dec. 14, 1775, CMCM, cód. 25, f. 62. Since she was equipped for deep-sea whaling, it is likely that the crown rented her in Brazil to the Quintela firm.

47 Lopez and Rotch to Captain John Lock, Sept. 4, 1775, as quoted in Stackpole, , The Sea-Hunters, p. 74.

48 On her return from a cruise around the Falklands, the Rody put into Bahia to make certain necessary repairs. Since her captain, Thomas Holland, had no cash to pay for them, he proposed to sell some of his cargo. But the captain-general informed him (correctly) that such an arrangement was categorically forbidden by Portuguese laws. The High Court of Bahia concurred with him, and ruled that Hol-land must ship a portion of his cargo on consignment to Lisbon at his owner's expense and that only after receiving the proceeds from its sale there could he make payment for the repairs of the Rody. Manoel da Cunha Menezes to Melo e Castro, May 29 and June 27, 1776, BNRJ, 1–4, 3, 6, núms. 76 and 81.

49 See Alden, John Richard, The American Revolution, 1775–1783 (New York, 1954), chap. 5.

50 “ Whilst we follow them among the trembling mountains of ice, and behold them penetrating into the deepest frozen recesses of Hudson's Bay and Davis Streights, whilst we are looking for them beneath the Arctic circle, we hear that they have pierced into the opposite region of polar cold. … We know that whilst some of them draw the line and strike the harpoon on the coast of Africa, others run the longitude, and pursue their gigantic game along the coast of Brazil. … Neither the perseverence of Holland, nor the activity of France, nor the dextrous and firm sagacity of English enterprise ever carried this perilous mode of hard industry to the extent which it has been pushed by this recent people; … ” Cobbett, William (ed.), The Parliamentary History of England … to … 1803, 18 (London, 1813), 489490.

51 Macy, , History of Nantucket, p. 118; Stackpole, The Sea-Hunters, chaps. 6 and 7.

52 Rotch to the Right Honorable Lord Commissioners of His Majesty’s Treasury, Nov. 29, 1775, as quoted in Stackpole, , The Sea-Hunters, p. 76.

53 The minister’s report caused a flurry of correspondence between Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Bahia, and other parts of Brazil, e. g., Melo e Castro to Lavradio, Dec. 21, 1777, with appendix listing the ships and their captains, BNRJ, 1–2, 4, 7, núms. 81–82; Manuel da Cunha Menezes to Melo e Castro, May 16, 1778, IDBAMU, II, 395.

54 Adams and Franklin to M. [Antoine] Sartine (Minister of Marine), Oct. 30, 1778, Adams, Charles Francis (ed.), The Works of John Adams …, 7 (Boston, 1852), 6364.

55 A term that usually referred to the various whaling grounds in the South Atlantic, but for a much broader definition see Enderby, Charles, Proposal for Re-establishing the British Southern Whale Fishery through the Medium of a Chartered Company … (London, 1847), p. 6n.

56 Third Report on the State of the British Fisheries, Appendix, pp. 132-133, as cited in Jenkins, , History of the Whale Fisheries, p. 209.

57 Adams to the General Court of Massachusetts, Sept. 13, 1779, as quoted in Starbuck, Alexander, The History of Nantucket: County, Island, and Town … (Boston, 1924), pp. 229230.

58 The contract’s renewal was announced three years earlier by the carta régia and alvará of May 7, 1774. Puhlicação oficial de documentos interessantes para a história e costumes de S. Paulo, XLIII (São Paulo, 1903), 5–7.

59 Stackpole, , The Sea-Hunters, p. 95.

60 “Progress of the Whale Fishery at Nantucket” (1785), Macy, , History of Nantucket, pp. 232234; there is an abbreviated version of the same text in Mass. Hist. Soc. Coll., III (1794 [1810]), 161.

61 Adams to Jay, John, Nov. 5, 1785, Works of John Adams, 8 (Boston, 1858), 337343, at 340.

62 Ellis, , Aspectos, p. 48. By 1789 Inácio Pedro Quintela had died and had been suc-ceeded by his nephew, Joaquím Pedro Quintela, later Baron Quintela.

63 Correia, Anjos, “Memoria” of 1820, p. 264.

64 The misnamed “ Brazil Banks,” principally an area of Right whales, were actually situated off the Argentine coast, south of the estuary of the Río de la Plata between lat. 36° and 48° S. See Townsend, Charles Haskins, “The Distribution of Certain Whales as Shown by the Logbook Records of American Whaleships,” Zoológica, 19, No. 1 (April, 1935), 13.

65 When the French navigator, Lapérouse, visited the whale-fishery of Santa Catarina in 1785, he found it “very productive” and stated that “They kill annually about four hundred whales, the oil and spermaceti of which are sent to Lisbon by way of Rio Janeiro [sic].” de Galaup, Jean François, de Lapérouse, Comte, A Voyage Round the World in the Years 1785, 1786, 1781, and 1788, 1 (London, 1807), 377378. In 1787 the catch there amounted to only 168 whales. Undated memorandum in Arquivo Historico Ultramarino, Lisbon. Papeis avulsos. Santa Catarina, caixa 2 [Bancroft Library microfilm collection]. Between 1793 and 1796 (inclusive) only 750 mammals were taken. de Brito, Paulo José Miguel, Memoria política sobre a capitania de Santa Catarina, escripta no Rio de Janeiro em … 1816 (Lisbon, 1829), p. 104 n.

66 de Brito, Miguel, Memoria, p. 102.

67 Thus the chancellor of the Relação of Rio de Janeiro wrote a royal official in December, 1801, “ As Nasçoens Estrangeiras, que fazem esta pesca, vão mais ao sul da nossa America, aonde esperão, pescão, ferem e afugentão o Peixe; e quanto mais Navios vierem da Europa, tanto mais se aumentará a nossa perda.” Quoted in Ellis, , Aspectos, p. 72.

68 Brito, Memoria, pp. 65, 91, 103–104.

69 “ Memoria sobre a pesca das baleias, e extração do seu azeite; com algumas reflexões a respeito das nossas pescarías,” Academia Real das Sciencias de Lisboa, Memorias economicas, II (Lisbon, 1790), 388–412.

70 See Herrick, Jane, “The Reluctant Revolutionist: a Study of the Political Ideas of Hipólito da Costa (1774–1823),” The Americas, 7 (Oct., 1950), 171181.

71 “Memoria sobre a viagem aos Estados-Unidos” (1799), Revista do Instituto Histórico e Geográfico Brasileiro, XXI (Rio de Janeiro, 1858), 361–362.

72 There is some indication that Costa’s suggestion may have borne fruit. According to Starbuck, in 1805 the Portuguese government tried to set up a whale fishery in Mozambique and recruited four Nantucketers, Timothy Folger, Francis Paddack, William Hull, and John Hillman, to take charge of the factory, but by 1810 all four had sickened and died there. History of American Whaling, p. 85 n.

73 Ellis, , Aspectos, pp. 8283. The step had been anticipated three years earlier when the crown authorized private individuals to outfit ships for deep-sea whaling. See D. Fernando José de Portugal to D. Rodrigo de Sousa Coutinho, Aug. 2, 1798, and idem to idem, Jan. 8, 1799, IDBAMU, IV, 51, 89.

74 In 1813 only thirty-four whales were taken at Santa Catarina. Miguel de Brito, Memoria, p. 104n; according to Anjos Correla (“Memoria,” p. 267), “Nas oito pescas contadas de 1819, recolheram-se nessas armações 651 baleias, vindo à tocar em cada um ano 81.”

75 For the development of American whaling in the nineteenth century see Starbuck, , History of American Whaling, pp. 92702, and Stackpole, The Sea-Hunters, chaps. 9-31.

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