In the nineteenth century, nearly all Native American men living
along the southern New England coast made their living traveling
the world's oceans on whaleships. Many were career whalemen,
spending twenty years or more at sea. Their labor invigorated
economically depressed reservations with vital income and led to
complex and surprising connections with other Indigenous peoples,
from the islands of the Pacific to the Arctic Ocean. At home,
aboard ship, or around the world, Native American seafarers found
themselves in a variety of situations, each with distinct racial
expectations about who was "Indian" and how "Indians" behaved.
Treated by their white neighbors as degraded dependents incapable
of taking care of themselves, Native New Englanders nevertheless
rose to positions of command at sea. They thereby complicated myths
of exploration and expansion that depicted cultural encounters as
the meeting of two peoples, whites and Indians.
Highlighting the shifting racial ideologies that shaped the lives
of these whalemen, Nancy Shoemaker shows how the category of
"Indian" was as fluid as the whalemen were mobile.