Roughly 15 years before Herman Melville introduced the world to Moby Dick, a whaling ship from Massachusetts sank near the mouth of the Mississippi River. Nearly 190 years later, experts say, it’s still the only whaler known to have gone down in the Gulf of Mexico, where the threat of enslavement at Southern ports posed a risk for Black and mixed-race men who often were part of whaling crews. Researchers checking out odd shapes during undersea scanning work on the sandy ocean floor believe they've finally found the shipwreck about 70 miles offshore from Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was documented in February by remotely operated robots in about 6,000 feet of water, reports the AP.
Not much is left of the two-masted wooden brig thought to be Industry, a 65-foot-long whaler that foundered after a storm in 1836. An old news clipping found in a library shows its 15 or so crew members were rescued by another whaling ship and returned home to Westport, Massachusetts, said researcher Jim Delgado of SEARCH Inc. At the time, the Gulf was a rich hunting ground for sperm whales, which were especially valuable for the amount and quality of their oil. The find "will help us better understand the rich story of how people of color succeeded as captains and crew members in the nascent American whaling industry," said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad in a release.
Southern slave owners tried to prevent enslaved people from seeing whites, Blacks, Native Americans, and others, all free and working together for equal pay. "There were a whole series of regulations and laws so that if a crew came into a Southern port and there were a large number of mixed-raced or African American crew members on board, the ship was impounded and the crew members were taken into custody until it left," said historian Lee Blake, a descendant of Paul Cuffe, a prominent Black whaling captain who made at least two trips aboard the Industry. Black crew members also could be abducted and enslaved, she said. (The AP has more on the find here.)