Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




Melvin Patrick Ely


Bound together across lines of color and lass, Nantucket and New Bedford residents pursued the unique economic opportunities presented by whaling during the nineteenth century. Whaling was becoming a major industrial enterprise with few available options to fulfill the labor needs required for the whaling crews, ropewalks, blacksmith shops, and sail lofts that made it possible for Nantucket and New Bedford whaleships to transit the globe. Whaling thus generated the jobs that made it possible for free black communities to thrive. People of color consequently turned the need for labor to their advantage. Drawn by the financial opportunities that the whaling industry offered, people of color were able to do much more than break the bonds of impoverishment. Side by side with white activists, many people of color channeled their energy toward advancing the cause of freedom and equality.;Black abolitionism included much more of the community than the few black leaders who have long received credit as the driving forces of abolitionism in antebellum America. Free people of color in Nantucket and New Bedford lived out on a daily basis the truth that freedom did not necessarily imply equality in nineteenth-century America. Living in separate worlds carved out of shared communities, people of color in Nantucket and New Bedford joined with white activists during the 1800s to seek a new birth of freedom. How race relations, class divisions, religion, and economic conditions unique to the maritime economy of Nantucket and New Bedford drove the struggle for change lies at the center of this story.



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