Thomas Nickerson

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Thomas Nickerson
Thomas Nickerson portrait.jpeg
Nickerson c. 1870
Thomas Gibson Nickerson

(1805-03-20)March 20, 1805
DiedFebruary 7, 1883(1883-02-07) (aged 77)
Known forCrewmate of whaleship Essex
Notable workThe Loss of the Ship "Essex" Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats

Thomas Gibson Nickerson (March 20, 1805 – February 7, 1883) was an American sailor and author. In 1819, when he was fourteen years old, Nickerson served as cabin boy on the whaleship Essex. On this voyage, the ship was sunk by a whale it was pursuing, and the crew spent three months at sea before the survivors were rescued. In 1876 he wrote The Loss of the Ship "Essex", an account of the ordeal and of his subsequent experiences at sea. The manuscript was lost until 1960, and was first published in 1984.


Nickerson was born in Harwich, Massachusetts, the son of Rebecca (Gibson) and Thomas Nickerson.[1] Nickerson made his first sea voyage in 1819, at the age of fourteen, on the ill-fated whaler Essex, which sailed from Nantucket Harbor. A whale rammed and sank Essex on November 20, 1820. The first mate, Owen Chase, later wrote about the incident in the Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, a book that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby-Dick.

Nickerson returned to sea after his rescue, serving on other whale ships and eventually working his way up to captain of a merchant vessel. Upon retiring he ran a boarding house in Nantucket, which was visited by the writer Leon Lewis, who encouraged him to write down his story of the three months he was lost at sea with the Essex survivors. Nickerson did this, and in 1876, he sent an 80-page manuscript, as well as accounts of other adventures he had later in life, to Lewis for editing. Lewis, however, was having a personal crisis and the manuscript was abandoned.[2] When Lewis journeyed to England, he left a trunk in the care of Rhea Ogden, a neighbor at his summer cottage on Lake Keuka, near Penn Yan, New York. The trunk containing the manuscript was later given by Ogden to her nephew, James M. Finch, Jr. of Hamden, Connecticut. Nickerson died in 1883, seven years after sending his manuscript to Lewis. The trunk's contents were finally inspected in 1960 and The Loss of the Ship "Essex" Sunk by a Whale and the Ordeal of the Crew in Open Boats was discovered. Finch's wife Ann, recognizing the manuscript's importance, contacted the Nantucket Historical Association. It took another twenty years before it was authenticated by Edouard A. Stackpole, a Nantucket whaling historian. The Finches donated the manuscript to the Association, who published an abridged version in 1984, a century after Nickerson's death.[2]

In popular culture[edit]



Nickerson's historical character was dramatized in three films:


  1. ^ Philbrick, Nathaniel (2001). In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Penguin. pp. 302. ISBN 9780141001821.
  2. ^ a b Thomas Nickerson (2000). Thomas Philbrick (ed.). The loss of the ship Essex, sunk by a whale. Penguin. p. 83. ISBN 0-14-043796-7.
  3. ^ Philbrick, Nathaniel (2001). In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex. Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-100182-8.
  4. ^ Revenge of the Whale (2001) at IMDb