Category Archives: History

More on the Wreck of the Two Brothers

More on the wreck of the Two Brothers

Earlier Story

In a firsthand account about the wreck of the Nantucket whaleship Two Brothers on the evening of February 11, 1823, boatsteerer Thomas Nickerson recalls the moment that the whaleship ran aground on French Frigate Shoals, under command of George Pollard Jr., the Nantucket captain who had survived the tragedy of the whaleship Essex. Nickerson’s account of the wreck of the Two Brothers, along with a poem about the sinking, is on display in the Essex Gallery of the Nantucket Whaling Museum, 13 Broad Street. A detailed account of the incident is available online at

Nickerson’s Two Brothers Account

For the past 188 years, the wreck of the Two Brothers has been buried beneath the ocean in the shallow waters of French Frigate Shoals in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. On February 11, 2011, on the 188th anniversary of the wreck, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries formally announced to the press that they had located the nationally significant wreckage in the waters of Papahnaumokuakea Marine National Monument, nearly six hundred miles northwest of Honolulu.

In the Fall 2010 issue of the NHA’s quarterly publication Historic Nantucket, an article written by NOAA’s Kelly Gleason, Ph.D., and Jason T. Raupp, Ph.D. candidate, featured the exciting discovery and the mounting evidence that the wreck site was indeed the remains of the 1823 Nantucket whaleship Two Brothers. Since that time, the NOAA team has found further evidence at the wreck site, including try-pots, harpoon heads, a grinding wheel, a blubber hook, and fragments of china that make the case that the wreck site relates to an early-nineteenth-century wreck, most likely the Two Brothers.

Ben Simons, Nantucket Historical Association’s Robyn & John Davis Chief Curator, and his colleagues at the NHA Research Library and Gosnold Collections Facility have been working closely with Gleason and hosted her on a research visit to the island last summer.

The NOAA team has looked into the original account of the uncanny events surrounding the original wreck left by Essex survivor Thomas Nickerson, and used other supporting documentary evidence in the NHA collection and elsewhere to link the material evidence of the wreck site with the events as they unfolded on February 11, 1823.

“Their work has brought this dramatic historical event back to life out of the pages of history, and offered a thrilling glimpse of Nantucket’s storied whaling past,” he continued. “Very little of the physical legacy of Nantucket whaleships remains, so the exciting prospects of marine archeology are seemingly just beginning to open new windows into the whaling past.”

At this point, the precious archeological artifacts will remain in the marine sanctuary, as they are protected by federal law. Gleason hopes that a small selection will eventually be placed on display in Hilo, Hawaii. Gleason has been invited to speak here this summer, but nothing has been confirmed. The NHA will continue to work with NOAA to discuss their plans for the future of the wreck material.

“In the meantime, we will be displaying the key material in the NHA collections, in particular Thomas Nickerson’s firsthand account and poem describing the wreck” Simons said.

Nantucket Historical Association’s History Quiz Bowl

The Nantucket Hstorical Association’s 2nd Annual History Quiz Bowl took place on Saturday, March 5, 2011
at the Whaling Museum. Questions covered Nantucket history, people, geography, architecture, whaling, historic places, and pop culture. The winners were The Proprietors’ De scendants with Marcia Tooker, Pittman Grimes and Maurice Gibbs.
Photos by Gene Mahon. More at

Nantucket Whaleship Remains Found in Hawaii

Nantucket Whaleship Remains Found in Hawaii

Trypots, blubber hooks, and other artifacts found in 2008 in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands 600 miles northwest of Honolulu have been authenticated as from the Nantucket whaleship “Two Brothers”, which sunk on February 11, 1823 in a shallow reef off French Frigate Shoals in water now 10 to 15 feet deep. “Two Brothers” was the second ship that sunk under the command of Captain George Pollard Jr., who survived both after having reportedly said that “the lightning never struck in the same place twice.” Pollard had also commanded the whaleship Essex, sunk by a sperm whale, which story was told in “Moby Dick” and Nat Philbrick’s New York Times bestseller “In the Heart of the Sea”.

I asked Nat Philbrick for a quick comment early this morning: “Yes it is exciting. Kind of amazing that they’ve found bits and pieces from Nantucket on the other side of the planet.”

Maritime heritage archaeologists working with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries found the remains of the wreck on a reef off French Frigate Shoals, nearly six hundred miles northwest of Honolulu, in the remote Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

This is the first discovery of a wrecked whaling ship from Nantucket. All of America;s whaling ships are now gone, broken up or sunk, except one, the National Historic Landmark Charles W. Morgan at Mystic Seaport Museum in Connecticut.

Excerpts from the mission blog written on August 24, 2008 by Kelly Gleason, Maritime Archaeologist:

“Our next task at French Frigate Shoals was to search for some of the other shipwrecks that have been recorded lost here. Easier said than done–looking for a shipwreck site at this large atoll is a little bit like looking for a needle in a haystack.

“Within minutes of the first tow, the towboarders spotted a large traditional kedge anchor in about 15 feet of water. It was big and definitely old‚Äö and didn’t look like it was simply lost in an anchorage… After snorkeling around in the area, we came across the first clue that this site was more than a lone anchor – a trypot!… The team discovered two more trypots (for a total of three), another large anchor, and hundreds of bricks scattered in pockets of the reef. As the team explored further along the shallows, we discovered hawsepipes and rigging. Just as they did on the Gledstanes discovery, the trypots and bricks clearly indicated a whaler, and examination of the anchors point toward an early 19th century date.

“Nevertheless, the identity of this unexpected find remains a mystery. What ship could this be trapped on the sea floor beneath the waves at French Frigate Shoals for so long? Only three whaling ships, all American vessels, have been reported lost at French Frigate Shoals: the South Seaman, a wrecked in 1859; the Daniel Wood, wrecked in 1867; and the Two Brothers, a Nantucket whaler wrecked in 1823.

“The maritime archaeology team collected a considerable amount of information at the site: measurements, distribution, and location of artifacts are all clues that will help us to figure out what the identity of this ship may be and how it likely came to its end. The team will take this data, the still and video images, measurements, and field notes back to shore. From there, we will search through archives, consult our peers and experts in the field, and begin to put the pieces of this shipwreck site together. … We will be patient and appreciate the journey as we discover the true story behind this unidentified whaling shipwreck site.

Archeologists working with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in 2009 and again in 2010 found more artifacts, 80 in all, which were used to date the ship. Kelly Gleason, the writer of the blog above, visited the Nantucket Whaling Museum for clues. Additional scholarly research provided first-hand accounts from Two Brothers crew members, including an approximate location of where the ship grounded, which matched the location of the wreckage.

The team plans to return to the shipwreck site again to look for more pieces of Nantucket whaling history. The artifacts will be displayed at the Discovery Center in Hilo, and the exhibit may travel to Nantucket.

The following photos of the Two Brothers Discovery are courtesy of NOAA/Greg McFall.

French Frigate Shoals


Blubber Hook

Blubber Hook

Cooking Pot

Cooking Pot

Ginger Jar

Ginger Jar

Grinding Stone

Sounding Lead

Spear Tip

Try Pot

Try Pot

John Stanton’s “Last Call”

Looking Back At “Last Call”
by John Stanton

I wonder if other filmmakers stop halfway through a film and ask themselves what the thing is actually about. At some point we had that great old black and white photo of the last day of the Bosun’s Locker. We had a quote calling the place “the last great saloon on the east coast.” We had a bunch of cool stories about the hippie days. We had recently recorded some great music.

To my mind it did not yet add up to a film. What we had was a story that could not hope to be more than a series of “those were the days” memories. Then David Halberstam agreed to an interview.

Among the many talents of the late, great, writer was the ability to put experiences into a larger context. The moment in which he explains that big new money feels the need to show off, to build houses that “violate the landscape” with garages big enough for five cars when you only have two, was as concise a description of the attitude of the new gilded age as you will ever find.

Then there is that lovely moment when he smiles at the camera and says that he simply likes dive bars, feels more comfortable in them having a beer, thinking about his work day, and in a very simple way being part of things.

Halberstam had reminded us what this film was about. It was called, Last Call: Dreams, Main Street, and the Search for Community. It was a cautionary tale of gentrification. And so it was about change. One man’s fix up, of course, is another man’s end of an era.

I wonder if Halberstam ever worried about those things he had to leave out of his books? There must have been some story he liked but could not use. I remember John Shea telling a wonderful story about being on Nantucket fresh from the Yale Drama School and wanting to put on Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest.”

It was a long and rambling story about trying to put on a play in which the audience would follow the actors to several locations on the island, which stood in for Prospero’s island of exile in the play. It was a story filled with the energy of youth, with cooks and carpenters, fisherman and waitresses, that he tried to turn into actors. It ended, like much of that decade, with the realization that, “there was just too much craziness going on in those days to pull it off.”

It was perfect. I tried for a month to fit it into the film. In one edit version the film began with a series of island images played out over Shea’s voice telling the story. But it ended up on what, in the days when films were made with real film, was called the cutting room floor. It exists only on some piece of videotape tucked away in a box in my office.

Through it all was Del Wynn. There is a scene in the film where Del and David Perry are just hanging around visiting in Del’s shop. The scene is like a clock tick to me, a physical manifestation of time passing now that they are both gone.

Del Wynn and David Perry (provided by John Stanton)

Finally it was rolled out to audiences. Again I was worried that we had failed. People brought their own interpretations to the film, some of which where a far cry from what I was trying to say.

Then I was invited to screen it in, of all places, Omaha, Nebraska. Somebody had seen it at the old Gaslight Theater, now the Starlight, that summer it premiered. He was the only person in that Omaha audience who had ever been to Nantucket.

There is an old saying that a documentary film begins when the houselights come up and people begin to talk about the ideas in it. That night in Nebraska the crowd told stories about the old pre-gentrification neighborhoods that once defined their lives.

As I left a couple stopped me to chat and the man said it was too bad I did not have camera with me because he had plenty of stories about a bar his dad once owned near the slaughterhouses that once marked on part of that town.

We all have our stories. At some point that become our shared history and define us in a way that a more distant history like say, 19th century whaling, can never do. If we are lucky we get to use these stories as a springboard to decide how we want to live today. More often life simply goes past us and we do not have that chance.

It might have been Tom McGlinn who pointed out to me one day that things on our island have changed much since Last Call first premiered. It is a point well taken. Nothing is quite so true as the idea that things will keep changing.

I have no idea what we can do about those changes. None at all. But it seems to me the first step is remember.

John Stanton’s film Last Call is now available on DVD for $24.95 by sending a check to Shouldered Oar Films, Box 348, Nantucket, MA, 02554. It can be seen at The Starlight Theater on Dec. 5, at 11:30 am and at The Chicken Box on Dec. 10 at 7:30 pm.