The exploitative nature of the whaling contracts may
have been a factor in the decision of the Unkechaug Indians to establish
their own whaling company in 1676. The Indians requested that they have
leave to sell their products "...to whom they like best." In this document
the Indians also asked the governor for protection from the whites who went
so far as to engage in outright theft. The whales wounded by the Unkechaug
crews and driven ashore were "...taken away from them by force." The
governor issued an order giving them permission to hunt whales without
molestation and to sell the whale products to whomever they chose.
Unfortunately there is no record of the outcome of this independent venture.
Against this background of deceit and exploitative practices the complaint of John Topping to the governor is most ironic. He pontificates about the "...decites and unfaithfulness of ye Indians..." who ignore their contracts and hire on with another company after receiving a cash advance. Topping took no notice of the role played by the company owners in the corruption of Indian labor agreements. John Wheeler, for example, signed on several Indians, including Unquonomon and Wittnes, on March 24th, 1681. About a week later Samuel Mulford signed both of them to a contract with him and issued a protest against Wheeler. The records do not tell us how the issue was finally resolved.
After 1680 whaling contracts gradually disappear from the records of the eastern towns. The right whales had been butchered in such great numbers that they became very scarce in the waters near the shore. As a result the whaling industry went through some important changes about the turn of the century. Larger boats captained by English officers began to go offshore several miles and remain for two weeks at a time. The Indians remained active in the whaling industry, but the colonists were no longer so dependent upon them for labor and expertis. An era had ended. The larger boats traveling farther out to sea now began to attack sperm whales as well as the right whales.
The Shinnecock continued to be involved with whaling as it developed into a large scale industry. Ships in the mid-nineteenth century went after the migrating herds, following them for two or three years at a time. The records of these activities are scattered, but the 1855 New York State census (1875: 503) does list 18 fishermen and 33 mariners out of 53 males between the ages of 15 and 70. The story of an era in Shinnecock history when the people sought some meaningful: - accommodation with the newcomers who had taken their land and left them so little has been well documented. It was an economic failure for them, but there were some other dimensions to the experience. The heroic struggles of the Shinnecock whalers with the huge beasts of the sea were undiminished by the mundane concerns of the organizers on shore. For a maritime culture with folk memories still fresh, the quest for the whale undoubtedly kept them in touch with their ancient traditions.