Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Presented at Textile Society of America 11th Biennial Symposium: Textiles as Cultural Expressions, September 4-7, 2008, Honolulu, Hawai'i. Copyright © 2008 Susan J. Jerome


In 1858, the Canton from New Bedford prepared for a whaling voyage to the Indian and Pacific Oceans with a variety of provisions that included 4844 yards of six different kinds of cloth. Antone de Castra, on the Marcella, invested $4.88 for a total of 25 yards of cloth purchased from the ship’s slop chest between 1854 and 1856. Mrs. Ricketson noted on January 27, 1872, that her husband Captain Daniel Ricketson, traded with natives using “cotton cloth, bleached and unbleached, and red cloth. He got twenty chickens and quite a number of bunches of Banana and some sugar cain.” Outfitting books, journals, and account books indicate that cloth sold or bartered played an important role in the social and economic structure of whaling during the peak of America’s participation in the industry during the nineteenth century.

This presentation explores the use of cloth as a bartering commodity within the unique economic system on a whaling ship, and between crewmembers of whalers and Native populations of the Pacific with whom they traded. Fabric became the money used in lieu of a common currency between these extremely diverse cultures. Research is focused on ships whaling in the Pacific Ocean between 1820 and 1870 from New England. New England’s interest in whaling evolved during this time, while technological innovations assured a steady supply of cheap cloth. Cloth-covered books, discovered in manuscript collections, suggest that trade cloth, used to cover logs and journals, still exists.