Eva Bischoff

“This Curse of the Human Race”: Quaker Temperance, Trade, and Tradition in the Pacific, 1790-1840 

When Daniel Wheeler, minister of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), visiting the South Seas in the name of the Gospel, arrived on Tahiti in 1835, he was shocked to learn that “landing spirituous liquors” on the island was widely practiced or “winked at” by many captains, especially those of whaling vessels. His travel journals gave detailed information about the disastrous effects of introducing “ardent spirits” to communities across the Pacific and were read widely by British and American Quakers alike. The latter was deeply involved in the Pacific whaling business ever since the first vessels – owned and equipped by enterprising members of the Society – entered the Pacific in the 1790s. Wheeler’s anger was thus directed against established economic interests of Quaker communities across the Atlantic world. My presentation will explore the tensions that arose from this double involvement. It reconstructs how members of the Society of Friends tried to reconcile their beliefs with economic interests and how Quaker activists employed the plight induced by British and American whaling crews to promote a form of “imperial humanitarianism” (Michael Barnett) that sought to expand the rule of British law beyond the Empire’s territories on the other. The paper derives from a new project that follows a group of Nantucket/New Bedford Quaker whaling families and their businesses across the globe. It focusses on the sea frontier as a socio-ecological, economic, and political space across the “Anglo-world” (James Belich).