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A Year of Study on Race Matters:
Understanding a Global Crisis
Long Island Whalers:
Navigating a Changing World
 a Symposium
Friday, April 15, 2016
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Humanities Institute at Stony Brook
1006 Humanities Building
                                                                                                Stony Brook University
This interdisciplinary symposium – featuring historians, archaeologists, historic preservationists, community activists, and artists – highlights fascinating new research on the role of whaling in Long Island history. From the 17th to the 19th centuries, the increasingly global hunt for whales brought Long Island mariners further and further from home, sometimes years at a time. Many whalers, especially African Americans and Native Americans, found social status and economic opportunity at sea that eluded them on land. Meanwhile, the profits derived from the whale products they produced transformed local communities. Although whales are still sighted occasionally in surrounding coastal waters, the whale boats, try pots, and flensing knives are long since retired following the decline of this once booming industry. Nonetheless, the impact of whaling on the region’s history, culture, and economy still resonates to the present day. Participants will highlight challenges in researching, preserving, and sharing this vital part of Long Island’s maritime heritage.
The event is generously funded by The Robert David Lion Gardiner Foundation osprey logo


Click here to download event poster.


Event Program

9 :00 a.m.  Coffee and Welcome

  • Kathleen Wilson, Director Humanities Institute and Department of History
  • Jennifer Anderson, Department of History (Co-Organizer)
  • Jenna Coplin, The Graduate Center, City University of New York (Co-Organizer)

10:00 a.m.  Panel I ~ Economies of Long Island’s Whaling Communities

  • John A. Strong, Long Island University, “Indian Whalers in Colonial Long Island”   
  • Jenna Coplin, Graduate Center, CUNY,  “The Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company: Financing the Deep-Sea Hunters”
  • Allison Manfra McGovern, Queens College, “Jeremiah Pharaoh’s Home at Indian Fields: An Archaeological Perspective”
  • Frank Turano, Stony Brook University, “William Cooper: Interpreting the Business Records of a 19th-century Whale Boat Builder”

12:00 p.m. Lunch (on your own)

2:00 p.m. Panel II ~ Preserving Material Culture & Memory of Long Island Whalers

  • Stephen N. Sanfilippo, Maine Maritime Academy, “Songs of Long Island Whalemen”
  • Georgette Grier-Key, Eastville Community Historical Society, “The Challenges of Preservation: The Case of the Pyrrhus Concer Homestead”
  • David Bunn Martine, Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center & Museum, “Recollections of a Shinnecock-Montauk Whaling Family”

3:45 p.m.     Break (15 minutes)

4:00 p.m     Keynote Lecture

  • Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut, “The Lee Family & the Global Scope of 19th-century Shinnecock Whaling”

5:30 p.m.  Reception

For driving directions, please click here.


Paper Abstracts:

John Strong  “Indian Whalers in Colonial Long Island”   

American whaling began a century before the classic era of deep sea whaling. This enterprise depended upon the experience and maritime skills of the Native people from the Shinnecock, Unkechaug and Montaukett nations, who hunted whales in open boats during every winter. Their story emerges from whaling contracts recorded in the Southampton, East Hampton and Brookhaven town records.

Jenna Coplin  “The Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company: Financing the Deep-Sea Hunters”

The Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Company was small compared to others. However, by balancing new economic opportunities with existing local relationships, the business of whaling became a positive force for some 19th century households. And as the whales disappeared, this community was well positioned to usher in the New Economy. 

Allison Manfra McGovern  “Jeremiah Pharaoh’s Home at Indian Fields: An Archaeological Perspective”

Historians agree that Native American whalers from New England and coastal New York were sought for employment in whaling, but disagreement remains on the social and economic impact that whaling had on indigenous lifeways. This paper examines the archaeological remains from a Montaukett whaler's home at Indian Fields are explored.

Frank Turano  “William Cooper: Interpreting the Business Records of a 19th-century Whale Boat Builder”

From preliminary research of William Cooper’s papers, now at the Long Island Museum, Frank re-constructed a profile of this 18th century boatbuilder’s business who specialized in building the small whaling boats that whalers carried with them to remote oceans and relied on in the hunt for their imposing prey.

Stephen N. Sanfilippo  “Songs of Long Island Whalemen”

Mid-1800s Long Island whalemen’s songs present emotions with which whalemen faced both physical tempest and personal conflict of mind. Analysis uses a concept of variable masculinity in which men react individually to a wide range of changing circumstances, each presenting his personal masculinity in a sensitive and articulate manner .

Georgette Grier-Key  “The Challenges of Preservation: The Case of the Pyrrhus Concer Homestead”

She will emphasize the lessons learned from failed efforts to preserve the historic home of Pyrrhus Concer, an African American from Southampton, who, on a whaling voyage in 1845, was one of the first Americans to visit Japan. 

David Bunn Martine  “Recollections of a Shinnecock-Montauk Whaling Family”

He will address his efforts to promote education about the Shinnecocks’ involvement in whaling, drawing on his own family’s history

Nancy Shoemaker  “The Lee Family & the Global Scope of 19th-century Shinnecock Whaling”

In the nineteenth century, nearly all Native men from Long Island and southern New England found employment in the whaling industry. At the industry’s peak, they commonly served as whaleship officers. Among the most well-known were the Lee family of the Shinnecock reservation who succeeded despite many hardships.


Biographies of Participants

Jennifer Anderson, Associate Professor of Atlantic History at Stony Brook University. She holds a PhD in History from New York University. Her recent book, Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America, examines the complex history of the colonial tropical timber industry. Since curating an exhibition at NYU about a 17 th century slave plantation on Long Island founded by West Indian sugar planters, her new research delves into historical ties between Long Island and the Caribbean. She recently published, “A Laudable Spirit of Enterprise: Re-Negotiating Land, Natural Resources, and Power on Post-Revolutionary Long Island,” in Early American Studies. Jennifer is an editor for the Long Island History Journal. She teaches courses on maritime history, Long Island, slavery and issues of race, and the social, economic, and environmental history of the early modern Atlantic region. As a public historian, she has served as an advisor to numerous New York museums and historic sites.

Jenna Coplin, an archaeologist working in Cultural Resource Management, is completing her PhD at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her focus is on shifting relationships between suburban and urban communities including intersections of co-residence, labor, race, and ethnicity to better understand how Long Islanders engaged the national economy emerging in the 19 th Century.

Dr. Georgette Grier-Key is the Executive Director and Curator of Eastville Community Historical Society of Sag Harbor. She is a consulting historian for various municipalities and projects, the President of the Association of Suffolk County Historical Societies, a founding member and organizer of the Pyrrhus Concer Action Committee (PCAC), and cultural partner for Sylvester Manor of Shelter Island. Dr. Grier-Key is also an adjunct history and political science professor and Nassau Community College.

Allison Manfra McGovern is professional archaeologist with more than 15 years of experience in archaeology and history on Long Island. She received her MA degree from Syracuse University, and MPhil and PhD degrees in Anthropology from the CUNY Graduate Center. She teaches at Farmingdale State College and Queens College, and serves as a consultant to several agencies, including the Division of Historic Services for Suffolk County Parks. McGovern has conducted numerous research projects on the histories of marginalized peoples focusing on labor, inequality, and race. Her recent book is a co-edited volume (with Christopher N. Matthews) entitled, The Archaeology of Race in the Northeast.

David Bunn Martine (Shinncock-Montauk-Chiricahua Apache-Hungarian descent) is a resident of the Shinnecock Reservation in Southampton. He has been director/curator of the Shinnecock Nation Cultural Center and Museum for 13 years.

Stephen N. Sanfilippo labored in a textile mill, served in the U. S. Navy, and has performed maritime songs since 1974 at venues from the Caribbean to Canada. He teaches at Maine Maritime Academy, dividing time between eastern Long Island and downeast Maine. He received his Ph.D. in History from Stony Brook University.

Nancy Shoemaker is a Professor of History at the University of Connecticut. Her most recent books are Native American Whalemen and the World: Indigenous Encounters and the Contingency of Race and a collection of historical documents and oral histories called Living with Whales. Her current book project is on Americans in nineteenth-century Fiji.

John A. Strong is a Professor Emeritus of History and American Studies at Long Island University. He has authored and numerous journal articles on the Indian peoples of Long Island, and is the author of four major books, including: The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island From Earliest Times to 1700; “We Are Still Here”: The Algonquian Peoples of Long Island Today; The Montaukett Indians of Eastern Long Island; and The Unkechaug People of Eastern Long Island .

Frank Turano is a native Long Islander who has spent 34 years in public education. He has a BS in Biology and Chemistry from St. John’s University, an MS in Marine Science from Adelphi University, an MA in Anthropology and a PhD in Historical Archaeology from Stony Brook University. Turano has been teaching Long Island Environmental History at Stony Brook since the mid-1970s. In 1999, he collaborated on the production of the documentary film Baymen and was the writer/researcher for the Telly Award winning film A Farm Picture, which traced the development of farming on Long Island.

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