An 18th century whale's tooth with excellent scrimshaw work depicting two female, two male African slave and a slave ship...with the name, Jacob Ives. This artifact was sent to one of the premier experts (Dr. Stuart Frank) at the Whaling Museum in New Bedford, MA. Dr. Frank stated that while the tooth is genuine and old, the scrimshaw work was done much later...perhaps late 1800s or early 1900s. His assessment was that it was an intriguing collectible with fine scrimshaw, but not scrimshaw work etched by real whalers in the early 1800s. The fact that the words "Slave Ship" were etched over the top of the ship is a clear indicator that the artistic work was done later. Those involved in the Slave Trade would have never artistically rendered those words (Slave Ship) at the time of the Trade. This is an intriguing piece, reflective of a horrific period that had occurred prior to the time of its creation. Was the whale's tooth etched by an African American artist? We will probably never know.
-- BACKGROUND: African Americans in the Whaling Industry, From Colonial times to the twentieth century -- The whaling industry, centered until the 1870s in New Bedford, employed a large number of African Americans. This was in part due to the Quaker tradition of tolerance in the New Bedford area, but more importantly, to the large demand for manpower in an expanding industry requiring unusually large crews. Some black seamen in the business were Americans, from the Northeast and the South, some were from the West Indies, and a significant group was from the Azores Islands off the African coast. Whatever their origin, black seamen found acceptance as hard workers and skilled mariners in an industry that was physically demanding, dirty, and often financially unrewarding. Men of African ancestry were active in New England's whaling industry as sailors, blacksmiths, shipbuilders, officers, & owners. By the 1840s, Black sailors constituted about one-sixth of the labor force; and by 1900, African Americans and Cape Verdeans had become a majority. When the center of the industry moved to San Francisco in the 1870s, African Americans continued to form a large percentage of the crews. The whaling business was no doubt the largest employer of African Americans seamen on the West Coast until it ended shortly before World War I.