Discovery Of 1800s Whaling Ship Expected To Offer Insight Into Black And Indigenous Crew

A team of scientists has made an announcement regarding the 207-year-old whaling vessel that had sunk in the Gulf of Mexico. The discovery reveals new insights into the lives of African enslaved people and Native Americans who were an essential part of the crew. The 64-foot long ship was built in 1815 in Westport, Massachusetts, and used to hunt whales in the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico. The New York Times reported that the ship sank during a storm on May 26th, 1836.

Experts suggest that this finding is groundbreaking as it indicates the widespread contributions made by Black and Indigenous mariners to the thriving trade of that time. Don Graves, the US Deputy Secretary of Commerce, said, "Black and Native American history is American history, and this critical discovery serves as an important reminder of the vast contributions Black and Native Americans have made to our country." Graves also added, "This 19th-century whaling ship will help us learn about the lives of the Black and Native American mariners and their communities, as well as the immense challenges they faced on land and at sea."

The sunken ship was first spotted by an energy company in 2011 and again in 2017 by an autonomous vehicle. However, it was only recently that scientists decided to examine it further. On February 25th, 2021, experts used a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) to explore the seafloor and enhance the inspection of the vessel. Combining research on the vessel’s history with footage from the ROV, a team of scientists led by James Delgado, senior vice-president of Search Inc, a US archaeology firm, Scott Sorset, marine archeologist for the US bureau of ocean energy management, and Michael Brennan of Search, were able to identify the remains of the wreck as the Industry.

Apart from providing insights into the lives of Black and Indigenous sailors, this ship is linked to some significant Black mariners, including Paul Cuffe. An abolitionist, shipbuilder, and philanthropist, Cuffe hired Black and Indigenous crew members for his ships. Pardon Cook, who made the most whaling voyages of any Black person in American history, is also associated with the Industry.

This discovery is significant as it helps us understand the early relationships of the men who worked on these ships and provides lessons for us today as we strive for diversity, equity, and inclusion in the workplace, said Carl Cruz, a New Bedford-based historian and a descendant of the family of Paul Cuffe. The fate of the crew of Industry was unknown after the vessel sank. However, Robin Winters, a local and Westport free public library librarian, has carried out new research, which clears up the crew’s fate.

According to an 1836 article in the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror, the crew of the Industry was picked up at sea by another whaling ship and returned safely to Massachusetts. Delgado, who worked closely with Winters and several other local historians to confirm the identity of the Industry, said, "If the Black crewmen had tried to go ashore, they would have been jailed under local laws. And if they could not pay for their keep while in prison, they would have been sold into slavery."

The discovery of this ship is like a book suddenly opening, enabling us to learn and appreciate the bravery and hard work of Black and Indigenous mariners who contributed immensely to America’s development.


  • adamlewis

    Adam Lewis is a 34-year-old school teacher and blogger who focuses on education. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Elementary Education from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Arts degree in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of South Florida. Lewis has been teaching since 2004 and has taught in both public and private schools. He is currently a teacher at a private Christian school in Florida.