American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

NICKERSON, THOMAS (1805-1883). At fifteen years old, Thomas Nickerson was the youngest member of the crew of the Nantucket* whale- ship Essex* when she was rammed and sunk by a whale in the Pacific Ocean, 20 November 1820. In 1876, fifty-five years after the appearance of first mate Owen Chase’s* account of the disaster, Nickerson, then the proprietor of a boardinghouse on Nantucket, sent his own narrative of the Essex to the professional writer Leon Lewis, then living in Penn Yan, New York. For reasons unknown, Lewis never edited the account, eventually lending Nickerson’s notebook to a neighbor, who died with it in his possession. Not until 1980 did the narrative come to the attention of Nantucket whaling expert Edouard Stackpole, who confirmed that it was a previously unpublished account of the Essex. In 1984 the Nantucket Historical Association published an edition of Nickerson’s narrative edited by Helen Winslow Chase and Edouard Stackpole. An unabridged edition of the narrative is included in The Loss of the Ship Essex, Sunk by a Whale: First-Person Accounts, edited by Thomas Philbrick and Nathaniel Philbrick (2000). Nathaniel Phil- brick draws heavily on Nickerson’s narrative in his book In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. (2000). [See also SHIPWRECK LITERATURE; WHALING NARRATIVES]

Nathaniel Philbrick