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PIECES OF HISTORY

A V O YA G E I N T O H I S T O RY
H
erman Melville’s classic American novel, Moby-Dick, The crew list was signed by Capt. Valentine Pease on
was first published in the United States on November December 31, 1841. Two days later, Pease had to amend
14, 1851. In Moby-Dick and his earlier books, the list to note the first two deserters from the crew and
Melville called upon his own experience aboard whaling ships, the late signing of a replacement. The collector of customs
most notably his 18 months spent aboard the Acushnet, sailing for New Bedford, Massachusetts, retained a copy of the
out of Fairhaven, Massachusetts. The 21-year-old Melville crew list as required by an 1803 act of Congress governing
signed on in December 1840 but never completed the journey merchant ships bound for foreign ports.
with the ship. After rounding Cape Horn and sailing across The Acushnet’s list is now housed at the National
the Pacific, Melville and another crew member deserted in July Archives–Northeast Region in Waltham, Massachusetts,
1842 while the ship was stopped at Nukahiva, one of the along with other crew lists from ships departing New
Marquesas Islands in the South Pacific. Their departure was England ports. The sixth name from the bottom is that of
not an isolated incident; 11 of the original complement of 26 the young Melville, setting out on a voyage that would
officers and men deserted at various times during the voyage. launch him into America’s pantheon of writers. P

72 Prologue