Emily Button


Nineteenth-century Native Americans from the northeastern United States became locally famous as mariners in the commercial whaling fleet. In the struggle to protect their small land bases and maintain their communities, going to sea became part of household practices for cultural and economic survival. From approximately 1800 through 1880, indigenous whaling families from Long Island used wages from commercial whaling to combat the limitations of land, credit, and capital that they faced on and off reservations. Whaling’s opportunities supported household formation and property accumulation among Shinnecock and Montaukett people for three generations, but whaling’s instability and risk meant that these gains were hard to pass on during and after the industry’s collapse.