Whalemen’s Shipping Paper (1840)

American Maritime Documents 1776-1860

Stein, Douglas L. 1992

Whaleman's shipping paper

Printed document, varying in size and format, usually found on a single sheet of heavy grade paper of fairly large proportions. “Whalemen’s Shipping Paper” was often printed across the top, with some examples displaying eagles, shields, ribbons, etc., engraved along the upper margin. Conditions of the agreement for the voyage were printed on the front side of the document. Columns are included for a crew member’s signature, date signed, his position aboard ship, his share of the voyage, and for witnesses’ signatures. Columns for other data may also appear. Pertinent sections of Federal legislation for the protectionof American seamen, usually including the original Act of 1790, are quite often found printed on the backside of these papers. Customs or consular stamps and seals will be present on some examples.

The Whalemen’s Shipping Paper was used by the whaling industry in the same way as Articles of Agreement were by the merchant fleet, significant differences between the specific conditions for a whaling voyage, which were read and agreed to by the individual signing the paper; and the column for “shares,” the fraction written there indicating the proportion of total revenue from the upcoming voyage that represented the crewman’s wages. Since these documents were printed locally at the various ports there is little standardization in size or content, but examples that are completely filled out and well-preserved prove to be valuable research sources.