The picturesque historic island of Nantucket lies some 30 miles off the coast of Boston, Massachusetts. Originally the home of the Wampanoag people, the island was purchased by a consortium of English settlers in 1659.Their names were Tristram Coffin, Thomas Macy, Christopher Hussey, Richard Swain, Thomas Barnard, Peter Coffin, Stephen Greenleaf, John Swain, and William Pile. When it came time to settle in 1660, each of the men sold a half-share of their portion, so bringing the numbers to 20.
By 1700 the focus of the settlers had moved from agriculture to the ocean, and the whales that could be seen out to sea from the shores of Nantucket Island. The oil of the sperm whale was a highly valued commodity and the astute businessmen among the Nantucket founders realised they had a potentially lucrative commodity virtually on their doorsteps. Not being seafarers themselves, they looked for mariners from neighbouring settlements to work this lucrative trade for them.
It is highly probable that one such mariner was the first of the Whippeys to come to Nantucket. (Note that the name was Whippey in America, but came to be Whippy in Fiji).
In 1705 the Nantucket records recorded the birth of a James Whippey, but unfortunately did not name his parents. James married Patience Long in Nantucket in1727, thus founding a family that remained in Nantucket for over a century.
A few years before the birth of James Whippey, the Nantucketers adopted the Quaker religion, replacing the Puritan and Baptist faiths of the colony’s founders. Quakerism, with its fundamental philosophy that each individual should have direct communication with God, rather than allow a priest or minister to mediate, shaped the values of the Nantucket community for two centuries.
The Nantucketers dominated the whaling industry throughout the world until the mid-1850s, at which time demand for whale oil declined worldwide. Their remarkable achievements so inspired the writer Herman Melville that he wrote in his novel, Moby Dick, ‘What wonder, then, that these Nantucketers, born on a beach, should take to the sea for a livelihood!… Two thirds of this terraqueous globe are the Nantucketer’s. For the sea is his; he owns it, as Emperors own empires …Thus have these . . . Nantucketers overrun and conquered the watery world like so many Alexanders.’
Indeed Melville was so inspired by the Nantucketers that he named the first mate of the ship Pequod Starbuck, the surname of one of the first settlers on Nantucket, Edward Starbuck. Edward Starbuck was a direct ancestor of David Whippy.
The perilous voyages undertaken by the Nantucketers inevitably brought their ships into the south-west Pacific Ocean, and were instrumental in opening up the Fiji islands to European influence. A young David Whippy would play an essential part in this, as we shall see.