More thoughts about Salem

In an earlier post, I blogged about the cosmopolitan nature of Salem in the 1790’s, primarily due to merchant men who traveled to the far corners of the globe.

I did not really discuss the multi-ethnicity of Salem itself. Some of that is due to the merchantmen. Salem is home to a large East Indian population, an immigrant colony that began hundreds of years ago.

But some is due to the whaling ships.

The crews of the whaling ships included men (and yes, a few women, disguised as men) from every background. Some came from seafaring families, the profession passed down from father to son. The best harpooners were drawn from the local Native American tribes and were commonly reputed to be the best. (And probably were. The colonists learned the trade from the Indians who had been practicing it for generations from the coast or from small boats). Black sailors were so common they had a special name: the Black Tars. And as immigrants arrived, not only from Europe but also from some of the ports of call, the French, Irish, Portuguese and other men joined the whaling crews.

We always talk about how small the world is now. I doubt we fully realize how much travel and cross-fertilization went on hundreds of years ago.


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