The War of 1812

In spite of ongoing international conflict, the whaling industry began to flourish once again in the mid 1790s. The domestic and overseas demand for oil grew as cities expanded and lighthouses were built along the American coast. The British and French, who were at war with each other, harassed New England whaling ships that they suspected of trading with the enemy. Whaling merchants scaled back their business, but continued small scale operations. Then President Jefferson signed the Embargo Act of 1807 and this effectively closed overseas European markets. Only whaling merchants with a large stash of money could afford to pay the costly bonds required to ship whale oil between domestic ports. As with the Revolutionary War, whalemen dreaded the declaration of war. The bulk of the whaling fleet was at sea and would not return quickly to the safety of home port.

Though the War of 1812 lasted only two years, its impact on whaling was no less significant than the Revolutionary War. Most of this nineteenth-century war was fought on the Atlantic Ocean and in the coastal waterways of the United States. Once again whaling came to a virtual standstill. Any vessel that ventured out to sea had a good chance of being caught and burned.

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Library of Congress George Munger