Relationships at Sea

French, English, Dutch

Although it seems like the Basques were at a higher stance in the beginning of the establishment of the industry, in the 17th century, both French and English ships were seen as enemies of the Basques. They were stolen and attacked in several instances. This has been understood to be a direct consequence of the process of colonialization of North America. Earlier in the 1550s, the Spanish realized of the importance of the lands where the Basques were whaling and the strategic settlement these would be. They had to make use of this strategic location to prevent the English, French, and the Portuguese from settling on New Foundland and the Canadian coast. However, their interest was not enough for the Spanish to colonize these lands. In addition to the increasing interest of other European countries on the area and the whaling activity, the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604) weakened the Spanish prevalence at sea. The English, the Dutch, and the French realized what went wrong for the Spanish and established yearlong settlements that heavily influenced their colonial activity and possession of the lands. This was in high contrast to the seasonal activities followed by the Basques in the Gulf of Labrador. Then, the establishment of yearlong settlements for whaling and cod fishing activities by the English, Dutch, and French on the North American coast directly consequenced their longterm establishment and influence on these lands.

This competition for the monopoly of the activity is thought to be one of the main reasons for the decline of Basque whaling and the abandonment of their activities in the North American coasts. Other reasons point that it was their bad relationships with the Eskimos that might have drawn them away from their lands (Proulx 1986, 22). Another area of contest was Spitsbergen, after it was discovered by the Dutch in the 17th century. Here, English and Dutch sailors hired Basque whalers to teach and help in their expeditions. 

Engraved whale tooth, unknown, 18801-1900. Whale ivory, 5″ x 2″. Nantucket Historical Trust: 1962.0035.018

The English and Dutch whalers that settled in North America, Nantucket included, used the techniques the Basques developed. Even during the 19th century, it is noted that Dutch and English whalers had only perfected the previous techniques, making no new innovations. Therefore, it was what they had learned from the Basques that helped them be successful. 

Engraved whale tooth (Scrimshaw), Naval Engagement Engraver, 1840-1860. Whale ivory, 8″ x 2 1/2″. Nantucket Historical Trust: 1977.0126.001

Each of these engravings belong to the 19th century and demonstrate the whaling techniques that later European seamen acquired from the Basques. In the first one, we can admire the smaller whale hunting boats on the larger ship. In the second one, whalers sail nearby the ship, capturing the whales, which are also depicted, as well as the blood, the only touch of color in the artwork.