Southampton's Whaling Captains

Updated: Jul 29, 2020


In 2017 we had an exhibit called Hunting the Whale: The Rise and Fall of a Southampton Industry which highlighted the story of a handful of whaling Captains that lived in Southampton and told the story of how Southampton participated in the whaling industry. Below is a look back at some of those people who were talked about in the exhibit. Enjoy!

Capt. Austin Herrick, 1796 - 1862


Lived at 17 North Main Street in Southampton Village


Whaling lore is full of tales of shipwrecks--the travails of those who survived, the terrible fate of those who perished at sea. One of the most intriguing of these stories was first told in a book titled “Historic Long Island,” which was published in 1902 and would seem to refer to Austin Herrick of Southampton. Though records of dates and boats he sailed on have eluded researchers, Herrick was often referred to in published accounts as an esteemed whaling captain. There are records of his birth in 1796, his marriage in 1835 and it is known that he lived at 17 North Main Street where he also ran a store. Other documents, including a letter and a log book bear his signature—all of which, with the timing of the events, lend credence to the theory that the hero of this romantic narrative is Austin Herrick. The author is persuasive in writing of the young seaman’s infatuation with a certain “picturesque, gambrel-roofed structure” on North Main Street and with a “certain maiden of Southampton.” Neither house nor maiden being available to him at the time, he sailed off to sea vowing to have both on his return, which was, alas, much delayed by the wreck of his vessel off the coast of Brazil. An arduous trek through the Brazilian forests to Rio de Janeiro, a successful attempt at stowing away on a ship to America, and our hero arrives home in Southampton at last. The maiden falls into his arms, the house is his, and Austin Herrick (can anyone doubt it is he?)--a man who has had enough adventure to last a lifetime-- settles down on North Main Street as a happy husband and storekeeper.

 

Capt. Barney Green, 1834/5 - 1902

Lived on South Main Street in Southampton Village


Barney came from a huge whaling family that intermarried with other whaling families. For example, he was the son of Aaron and Ann (Nickerson) Green and his father’s sister married Capt. Mercator Cooper. At the young age of 8 he went on his first whaling voyage as cabin boy with his brother-in-law Captain Henry Edwards on the “Whaleship Fannie.” He was known to be “a jolly little lad, always good natured, always happy.” This began his career upon the water covering 30 years during which he made at least 8 voyages, sailed twice around the world, visited every ocean and called at every large port of note. On his last voyage, he was badly hurt when his boat was stove by a whale and he was hurled into the air and fell upon the loggerhead. His comrades did not think he would survive his serious injuries, but he did. He returned from this voyage and never shipped out again. Green and his wife, Eliza J. Hildreth, were smart enough to change with the times after Barney’s whaling carreer came to an end. In 1890 he became the first official chief of the Southampton Fire Department and towards the end of his life, when Southampton was becoming a famed resort town, he built a new larger house and took in boarders.

 

Capt. Mercator Cooper, 1803/4 - 1872

Lived on Windmill Lane in Southampton Village


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 hom