Whalers on the Hudson River
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Whalers on the Hudson River

Hudson New York was the home of an important whaling industry that was started by Nantucket Quakers as a place that was beyond the reach of the British Navy. The city became an industrial powerhouse and indirectly was the cause of the modern petroleum industry.

You would never expect that Hudson NY would be created because of the whale, but in 1793 some very hard nosed Quakers from Nantucket plunked down $100,000 to buy the land that kept their whaling ships out of reach of the British Navy. Their new town was originally called Claverack Landing but soon changed its name to Hudson. The first houses and other structures were prefabricated on Nantucket, an island off the coast of Massachusetts, and carried by ship to Hudson. When they reached the new town they were assembled for use by the settlers.

No, they didn't catch whales in the Hudson River that was a project that was reserved for the seven seas the Nantucket Whalers went all over the world to make their catch. The purpose of Hudson was to process the catch him to have a ready market nearby. The presence of a whale oil refinery in the Hudson Valley created a profound economic boom in the Hudson Valley especially in New York City where its influence was one of the contributing factors of making the place the leading city of America.

The production of whale oil in the Hudson Valley although short-lived produced an abundance of oil for the lamps of America. It also generated the impetus for today's petroleum industry when the supply of whales dwindled. In its day this industry was one of the most powerful in the United States.

The city of Hudson grew quickly, and became the county seat of Columbia County New York. The land for the city was carved out of the town of Greenport. The whaling industry was important in Hudson because the whaling ships were able to sail up the Hudson River 120 miles from its mouth at New York City and the Atlantic Ocean. This location out of the reach of the British Navy was able to serve as a catalyst for profit during the late 18th century and the early part of the 19th century.

Hudson or Claverack Landing as it was originally known was settled by thirty four families. The new settlement was officially named Hudson in 1785 two years after its establishment. By 1786 it sported a population of 1,500 and 25 whaling ships were based there. By 1800 the population of Hudson had built an additional 32 ships. However, by the mid-1800s the whaling industry began its decline as petroleum products notably kerosene replaced whale oil as the primary source of light.

In its heyday Hudson received 4 – 5 million gallons of whale oil per year and an additional 1.6 to 5.6 million pounds of whale bone. These and other parts of the whale were turned into such products as: whale bone, spermaceti, ambergris, and sperm oil. These products were turned into such manufactured products as: Smoke-free white burning oil, smokeless candles, buggy whips, corset stays, lamps, perfume and soap.

The whaling industry declined because it was a dangerous business both financially and physically. The decline was furthered by the development of the petroleum industry when oil was discovered in 1859 by Col. Drake in Titusville, Pennsylvania as a much cheaper substitute for whale oil. Decline was further caused by the fact that one in ten of the whaling ships lost money. As a dangerous occupation the catching of the whales was rife with industrial accidents. Finally the invention of the kerosene lamp shortly after the discovery of petroleum spelled the death-knell of the whaling industry.

Aside from the ships sailing from Hudson the city supported many other workers in supporting roles for the whalers that included warehouse men, ship builders, sail makers, chandlers and the makers of exotic goods that were made from different parts of the whale.

After the decline of the whaling industry Hudson became famous for a far more rowdy industry that came to a crashing end in the early 1950s when the New York State police raided the town and closed all the notorious places they could find. They also had several members of the local police department locked up for excepting bribes.

Today Hudson is heavily into the antique business so much so that the author finally found out what was wrong with him when he hit his head on a chandelier. The proprietor told him his problem was, “You stayed green too long!” At 6 feet 4 inches I had to agree with him.

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Comments (6)
Ranked #41 in History

Interesting, John. Well, we were fortunate to divert to petroleum sparing the lives of whales for our generation. Although some countries were still doing it of course. Be back for a vote.

Well done John.......Very interesting and well researched subject

Ranked #1 in History

Superb, takes me back to reading Moby Dick.

This is very educational.

Ranked #94 in History

Very cool piece of history! Very enjoyable reading!

I was reminded of that airplane that landed on the Hudson River. Now I know better about Hudson.

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