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American LucifersThe Dark History of Artificial Light, 1750-1865$
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Jeremy Zallen

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9781469653327

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469653327.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.northcarolina.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of North Carolina Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in NCSO for personal use.date: 25 September 2021

Dragged up Hither from the Bottom of the Sea

Dragged up Hither from the Bottom of the Sea

Chapter:
(p.13) Chapter One Dragged up Hither from the Bottom of the Sea
Source:
American Lucifers
Author(s):

Jeremy Zallen

Publisher:
University of North Carolina Press
DOI:10.5149/northcarolina/9781469653327.003.0002

Beginning with the rise of the American whale fishery in the 1750s, this chapter explores the violent accumulation and circulation of energy embodied in whales. The lives and struggles of workers across the Atlantic world were caught up in the politics and processes of producing oil lights. Enslaved Africans forced into nightwork in West Indian sugar houses, the London poor confronting new state-sponsored street lamps, cotton mill laborers, and Pacific mariners were tangled together around common threads of American whale oils. American deep-sea whaling voyages first triggered a street lighting revolution that radiated from London to Europe and America, while a New England run trade in spermaceti candles, whale oil, slaves, and sugar helped illuminate and circulate the people and goods caught up in colonial transatlantic sugar slavery. Later, American whale oils lubricated an industrial revolution in cotton manufacturing, while fugitive slaves and free blacks carved out a geography of freedom in the globe-spanning Quaker-run fishery. As these entwined revolutions in night and cotton intensified in the antebellum period, they overwhelmed the capacity of the American fishery to meet the demand for both light and lubrication, even as ship masters drove whalemen on harder and longer voyages for less pay.

Keywords:   Energy, labor, American whale fishery, West Indian sugar slavery, London, spermaceti candles, whale oil, industrial revolution, Atlantic World, New England, Pacific World

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