American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

HART, JOSEPH C. (1798-1855). A New Yorker whose mother’s family came from Nantucket* Island, Joseph C. Hart is known today as the author of Miriam Coffin, or The Whale-Fishermen (1834), a novel that was an important source for Moby-Dick* (1851).

An attorney, school principal, and author of several widely used geography textbooks, Hart traveled to Nantucket sometime prior to 1834, where he collected material for Miriam Coffin, a “semi-Romance of the Sea” based on the rise and fall of the notorious whaling merchant Kezia Coffin (17231798). In addition to information about the Quakers and Indians of Nantucket Island during the Revolutionary War period, Hart’s novel provides detailed (albeit anachronistic) descriptions of the Pacific whale fishery. Published anonymously, Hart’s novel was well received and reprinted within a year.

His subsequent book, The Romance of Yachting (1848), is known chiefly today for the savage review it received from Herman Melville,* who deemed this loose collection of musings on Shakespeare, the Puritans, Europe, music, and sailing “an abortion.” In 1854 Hart was appointed American consul at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where he died soon after his arrival.

Nathaniel Philbrick