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Thomas Nickerson

Thomas Nickerson (1805?-1883) was a fourteen-year-old cabin boy on the whale ship Essex, who wrote an account of the boat's sinking and the three months that the crew survived at sea.

Born on the island of Nantucket, off the coast of Massachusetts, Nickerson made his first sea voyage in 1819, at the age of fourteen, on the ill-fated whaler, Essex. When the ship was struck by a whale on Novermber 20[?], he joined the boat of the first mate, Owen Chase[?], who later wrote about the incident in the Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, the book that would inspire 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 and in 1876, he sent the 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. When Lewis journeyed to Enmgland[?], he left the manuscript with friends in Connecticut, where it was forgotten.

Nickerson died in 1883, but it was only in 1960 that his unedited manuscript was discovered. It took another twenty years before it was authenticated; an abridged version was published by the Nantucket Historical Society in 1984, over one hundred years after Nickerson had died.

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