Captain Mercator Cooper’s Whaling Log

Updated: Nov 23, 2021

This week I wanted to share with you, not something from our collection, but something from the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s collection that has been a huge help to us in our research. Captain Mercator Cooper’s whaling log from his historic whaling journey to the Pacific Ocean in the early 1840s.


Capt. Mercator Cooper, 1803/4 - 1872

A captain of great dash and courage, Mercator Cooper was one of the most renowned seamen of his day. At the time of his death, the New York Herald noted that “from his youth he was bred to the sea and for more than 30 years held the responsible position of commander of vessels of large tonnage…and made extensive whaling voyages in the Northern and Southern Oceans.” His most famous exploit was the historic visit of his ship the Manhattan to feudal Japan in 1845. Arriving in Japanese waters to deliver rescued sailors to their home port, he was first greeted with hostility but handled the situation with characteristic tact and good will and earned the respect of his hosts. Japan at this time was closed to foreigners and this unexpected rescue mission did much to pave the way for the opening of Japan’s ports to world commerce. Captain Cooper retired from the sea and whaling in 1851. He chose not to join the many Southampton seamen who sailed whaling ships to the gold fields of California, preferring to remain at home with his family in beautiful Cooper Hall, which still dominates Southampton Village from its perch on Windmill Lane.


You can click here to see a digital copy of Mercator’s whaling log.


Throughout the book you can see illustrations of whales that were seen at sea and on one page even an illustration of a volcanic eruption.


Pyrrhus Concer, 3/14/1814 to 8/23/1897

Also along on this journey was Pyrrhus Concer one of Southampton’s most important historic figures. Pyrrhus was born into a live of servitude to Violet Williams who was enslaved to Nathaniel Cooper, Mercator‘s father. You can learn more about Pyrrhus’ amazing life story by visiting the newly opened Southampton African American Museum or by going on our virtual walking tour about his life that we launched last year with SAAM’s help.

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