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Whaling and Abolition: A Sample ‘Path Through History’

Diane Duprey, a retired social studies teacher now President Southeastern Council for the Social Studies, has created her own Path Through History. It includes many of the elements I’ve been advocating a path should include. It features multiple activities and sites including talks, walks, tours, and a cruise – a traditional favorite all combined in a multi-day program with lodging before the summer rates kick in.

The similarities between the program she created and the one I advocated is expected because the Duprey participated in two IHARE Teacherhostel/Historyhostels, in Cooperstown and Saratoga, and took applied those experiences to areas of personal interest to her: whaling and the abolition of slavery in New Bedford, MA where she lives (and taught).

By coincidence, Duprey’s program is scheduled for one of the two weekends set aside for the NYS Path Through History program this June. It will be interesting to see:

new-History_1979 City of Hudson Seal 300dpi1. How many of the Path programs are paths involving multi-days, multi-sites and multiple activities (versus being isolated standalone programs like the Hudson River Ramble)?

2. How many of the Path programs involve lodging (versus being a one or two hour or morning or afternoon program like the Ramble)?

3. How many Path programs will involve non-New Yorkers (versus being New York residents from Hudson Valley or New York City in the Ramble)?

Much of that information as to whether the Path through History/NYS Heritage Weekend programs comply with the stated goals of Cuomo’s project should be readily available from the website listing the programs. In the meantime, if you are looking for a Path through History model for your area, here’s Diane Duprey’s:

New Bedford, Whaling and the Abolition of Slavery
Saturday and Sunday, June 1 & 2, 2013

The motto of the City of New Bedford, which is on the city’s seal, reads “Lucem Diffundo,” meaning “We diffuse the light.”  As the whaling capital of the world, a major product of the industry was spermacetti oil which was used in the manufacture of candles and oil for use in lamps.  For those escaping the bondage of slavery, the “light” could also be interpreted as the light of freedom the city offered.

Participants in the teacherhostel will experience a range of activities.  After being welcomed and viewing the film “The City That Lit the World,” New Bedford’s “1850s Ladies” will discuss some of the events of their day and share a little gossip of New Bedford during the days of whaling and abolition.  Lectures about whaling, Quakers and the abolition movement will give a different perspective about the industry and the Underground Railroad here.  Walking tours will highlight the people who contributed to the industry and freeing of the slaves.  Tours of the harbor, the Whaling Museum and the Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum will provide  informative and enjoyable experiences.

At the conclusion of the weekend attendees will have gained a deeper and richer understanding of New Bedford’s whaling fisheries, Quakers and their contributions to whaling and the abolition movement.  They will take with them techniques, resources and materials and to take back to their communities and classrooms.

Saturday – New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

8:30 – Registration – 2nd floor, Corson Building, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park

9:00    Welcome – Jennifer Nersesian, Superintendent of the National Park

9:15    “The City That Lit The World” – movie

9:40    “Ruth and Abby – the 1850s Ladies” living history presentation.

Judy Rodriques and Lucy Bly created the Living History Program at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. Judy Rodriques (Abby) began as a volunteer at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park soon after the park was established. After retiring from the Dartmouth School System she was hired by the National Park as a seasonal ranger. Lucy Bly (Ruth) was a teacher of Foreign Languages at Dartmouth High School from 1969 – 2009. She volunteered as a walking tour guide for the City of New Bedford and the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park before becoming a park ranger there.

10:30    “The Contributions of the New Bedford Whaling Industry to the Abolition of Slavery” Laurie Robertson Lorant

The focus of the presentation will be on how the presence of the thriving whaling industry and other maritime trades made New Bedford a culturally diverse city where the interests of free African Americans, fugitives from slavery and whites coincided. They lived and worked together in relative harmony, and Black men who owned property and paid taxes were eligible to vote, thanks to the efforts of Captain Paul Cuffe a generation earlier. New Bedford became a stronghold of abolitionist resistance to slavery because almost all of the city’s élite–the men who owned whale ships, banks, insurance companies and the like–were antislavery Quakers. They paid Black men and White men equally, according to their skills, not the color of their skin. The intricate system of inland waterways and Atlantic coastal ports that connected New Bedford’s whaling industry and shipping to the world facilitated escapes from slavery, and long whaling voyages enabled fugitives to spend several years out of reach of slave catchers. Fugitive John S. Jacobs learned to read aboard a whale ship, and fugitive Frederick Douglass rose from shoveling coal and doing odd jobs to being a lay preacher in the AME church and a celebrated speaker for the Anti-Slavery Movement. Despite the presence of some race and class prejudice, on the whole, New Bedford was a surprisingly progressive city during the “golden age of whaling.” It provided opportunities for upward mobility, and both fugitives and free men of color entered professions such as medicine and law.Lecture — National Park Theater

12:00    Lunch

1:00    “Rising to the Moment by Sinking to the Bottom: New Bedford and the Great Stone Fleet” – George Ripley, National Park Theater

In December of 1861, the federal government purchased twenty-one New Bedford whaling ships with the purpose of sinking them and blockading Charleston Harbor. The project, now known as the “Stone Fleet”, has been called a debacle and a failure. But was it truly a failure? Find out the full story when graduate student and former park ranger George Ripley provides the details about this story that bring it to life.

Coming from a family with deep roots in New Bedford, George Ripley earned his B.A. in history with a minor in religious studies from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth in 2011 after having worked for the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park for four years. George is currently pursuing a M.A. degree in history with a concentration in public history at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

2:00    New Bedford and the Underground Railroad Walking Tour  – Donna Sargeant

This walking tour in historic downtown New Bedford will explain why escaped slaves were attracted to New Bedford, how they arrived, and how they were treated. See where Frederick Douglass first set foot in New Bedford in 1838 and where he lived. Also learn about other escaped slaves who made it to New Bedford in the 1800s and how their lives improved. Walk the streets they walked on, see many of the same buildings that they saw, and learn how New Bedford residents protected them from slave catchers.

3:00    “Teaching the Underground Railroad”  lecture and tour of the Nathan and Polly Johnson House – Lee Blake

“Teaching the Underground Railroad” will illustrate the many themes that teachers may draw on to connect the stories and history of the Underground Railroad to MCAS and the Common Core standards. Resources to enhance classroom activities on the Underground Railroad will be shared with workshop participants.

The Nathan and Polly Johnson House is a National Historic Landmark for its association as the first home in freedom of Anna and Frederick Douglass. Nathan and Polly Johnson were African American entrepreneurs who were active abolitionists. The site served as an Underground Railroad site and it is documented to have housed several freedom seekers including the daughters of noted author and abolitionists William Wells Brown.

Lee Blake is an education administrator with over 30 years-experience as a teacher and administrator in urban education. Lee has taught at the high school and university level in New Bedford and in New York City, including 4 years at New York University. She currently serves as Director of the Campus Compact at the University of MA Dartmouth, connecting university programs to K-12 schools in the South Coast of Massachusetts and presents teacher professional development workshops on local history and African American Studies. Lee also serves as president of the New Bedford Historical Society where she develops and implements programs that highlight the role of African Americans and Cape Verdeans in the life and history of New Bedford and the state of Massachusetts. Lee and Professor Timothy Walker of UMD, have twice been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities Landmarks of American History Teacher Workshop grant for Sailing to Freedom: New Bedford and the Underground Railroad, a summer workshop program that brings 80 teachers from around the country to study the role of New Bedford’s African American and abolitionist community in the Underground Railroad. A unique aspect of the workshop series is that it uses downtown New Bedford as its campus, sharing the historic structures of the city for daily tours and lectures by some of the top scholars on the Underground Railroad and African American history in the country.

4:00    “New Bedford as a Fugitive Depot” – Kathryn Grover

Kathryn Grover is an independent writer and editor in American history from Windsor, Vermont. She is the author of The Fugitive’s Gibraltar: Escaping Slaves and Abolitionism in New Bedford, Massachusetts ( 2001), Make A Way Somehow: African-American Life in a Northern Community (1994), The Brickyard: The Life, Death, and Legend of an Urban Neighborhood (2004), and Lynn Album II: A Pictorial History (1996). Her book Rochester, New Hampshire: “A Compact Little Industrial City” in the Modern Age, 1890-2010 will be published by Peter E. Randall Publisher in September 2013. She has researched and written numerous studies and articles, many of them on the presence and activities of fugitives from slavery and abolitionists who aided them, for towns and cities throughout New England and New York State. Grover’s talk, “New Bedford as a Fugitive Depot”, will address New Bedford’s singularity as a place of settlement for southern-born African Americans, both free and enslaved, in the seven decades before the Civil War, how it was perceived by fugitives, abolitionists, and Southerners, and what made it attractive to people of color.

SundayWhaling Museum Library

9:00     “Whaling and the Dynamics of Race in Antebellum New Bedford, a Survey of Sources”

From mid-18th century free Blacks, Native Americans and probably slaves as well worked in the maritime trades and onboard whaling vessels. Likewise, people of color from the islands of the Atlantic and all over the world were recruited to work on shipboard. The New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library holds a wide array of different sorts of source material documenting this history. The participants will have an opportunity to see and understand how maritime documents work together to create a full picture of the lives and opportunities of people of color on shipboard.

10:15    Whaling Museum Tour

11:15    New Bedford Harbor Cruise

Take a 60-minute vacation! The clean, quiet vessel takes you on a relaxing, narrated cruise around historic New Bedford Harbor. New Bedford Harbor Highlights – Palmer’s Island Lighthouse, Fort Phoenix, the largest hurricane barrier on the east coast, No. 1 Fishing Fleet in U.S., Schooner Ernestina, Joshua Slocum Memorial and lots of whaling history!

12:30 – Lunch

1:45 – Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum Tour

Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum – Built by shipwrights in 1834 for whaling merchant William Rotch Jr., the Rotch-Jones-Duff (RJD) House and Garden Museum epitomizes the “brave houses and flowery gardens” described by Herman Melville in Moby-Dick. Greek Revival in style, it was designed by architect Richard Upjohn, a founder and first president of the American Institute or Architects. It was home to three prominent and influential New Bedford families; William Rotch Jr., 1834 to 1850; Edward Coffin Jones, 1851 – 1935; and Mark M. Duff, 1935 – 1981. The estate chronicles important chapters in American history when New Bedford had a major influence on the international arenas of commerce, trade, and culture via whaling, and later through textiles. The property encompasses a full city block of gardens which include a boxwood parterre rose garden, a boxwood specimen garden, a woodland garden and a cutting garden. It is the only whaling mansion open to the public in New England that retains its original configuration of grounds and outbuildings.

2:45 – “Quaker Beliefs and Practices towards Slavery” Elizabeth Cazden

Elizabeth Cazden is an adjunct professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, RI specializing in Quaker slave-holding and abolition. Quakers (Friends) played a prominent role in the life of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, from its earliest years, and Quaker merchants and whalers were among the founders of New Bedford. Many early Friends owned slaves, and a few invested in the slave trade. By 1775, however, Quaker meetings throughout New England banned slave-holding among their members. Many (although not all) Quakers supported abolition, assisted freedom-seeking African-Americans, and lobbied for emancipation laws. This talk will discuss Quaker beliefs and practices and trace their changing attitudes towards slavery from 1650 to 1860.

3:45 – “Behind the Mansions” National Park walking tour – Diane Duprey

Diane Duprey is a volunteer at the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park who serves in the capacity as a front desk greeter, is a member of the park’s education committee and leads Underground Railroads and “In Ishmael’s Footsteps” walking tours. She introduces the “Behind the Mansions” walking tour at the teacher hostel. Diane is a retired secondary school educator in the New Bedford Public schools and the Native American Coordinator at the Sharon Country Day Camp in Walpole, MA.

Illustrations: Above, pen and ink drawing by Len Tantillo, depicting the arrival of a whale at Fort Orange in 1647 (Courtesy New Netherland Institute); below, the seal of the City of Hudson, which highlights the city’s history as a whaling port.

4 thoughts on “Whaling and Abolition: A Sample ‘Path Through History’

  1. New Bedford? Isn’t that Massachusetts on the “farside” of Connecticut?
    Why would that be part of NYS Path Through History?
    As a person who grew up in the Hudson and Harlem Valleys in the 40s, 50s, 60s,…..
    You immediately came to realize that Connecticut and Massachusetts were a totally different worlds.
    The difference was immediate the second you crossed the borderline.
    It pretty much still is, however, the differences are leveling some.

    1. Hi Peter,

      The title of this piece is “A Sample ‘Path Through History’” – that’s what’s intended here.

      Having lived in Eastern New York all my life, I’m afraid I disagree on your more general point. This area very closely resembles (architecture, culture, industrial history) and shares a lot of history (and genealogy) with New England, including both abolition and whaling.

      Are you aware of other ‘path’ examples such as this that are available? As far as I can tell communication from the “paths through history” project is all but nonexistent.

      I’d love to link here to materials that people in New York can use. Until there is some leadership here in New York, we’ll continue to highlight what other states are doing.

      Thanks for reading and commenting,

      John Warren

    2. As John Warren notes, eastern New York has much in common with New England. This is a geographic as well as historical issue, so please see the historical geographer Professor D.W. Meinig’s classic series of chapters “Three Centuries of Change” in John Thompson’s ed. Geography of New York State (Syracuse Univ. Press, 1977), especially fig. 41, map of New York c. 1775 that clearly shows the Dutch-Yankee Divide East of the Hudson far into Dutchess, Columbia counties, etc. Historians need to collaborate with historical and cultural geographers to understand their cultural landscapes.
      Harvey K. Flad, co-author with social historian Clyde Griffen of Main Street to Mainframes: Landscape and Social Change in Poughkeepsie (SUNY Pr., 2009)

  2. The point is that there are successful programs (best practices, if you will) in other places that could be replicated in New York rather than re-inventing the wheel. There are worthwhile programs in the New England states and in New Jersey that could be replicated here in New York if the right people were paying attention.

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