Oil, Ice, and Bone; Arctic Whaler Nathaniel Ransom
In 1860 fourteen-year-old Nathaniel Ransom followed his five older brothers into the dank foc’sle of a whaling vessel. For fifteen years he hunted seventy-ton bowheads in Arctic waters, for the many uses of “bone,” blades of flexible baleen from the leviathan’s enormous jaw, raised its value, even as petroleum replaced whale oil as a source of lighting. In 1871 Ransom survived the loss of thirty-two whaling vessels in the frigid waters off Alaska’s Icy Cape. With him he carried a journal – and kept it, as he and his shipmates jettisoned weapons and warm clothing to save their very lives. His eyewitness account of whaling’s brutal slaughter and sudden losses is enriched by the author’s affection for an ancestor she discovered through his journals a century after his death.