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Whale Oil Lamp
(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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Before the Civil War, several forms of lighting were available in American households. While candles were still regularly used in some homes, most had lamps which burned lard, camphene or whale oil. Gas lighting was introduced in big cities like Boston and New York in the 1820s, but this utility did not reach most areas until after mid-century. Whale oil was held in the blown-glass font on this lamp, which sits on a pressed-glass base. Whale oil was the cleanest, safest and most efficient burning oil in the first half of the 19th century, but it was also the most expensive. The whaling industry began on this continent in the late 17th century off the coast of Long Island in New York and Cape Cod in Massachusetts. From the industry's earliest years, it had a highly integrated multicultural work force. Wampanoag Indians were among the first whalers in Massachusetts and crews continued to include a significant number of African-American sailors and, later, included men from Cape Verde and other Atlantic islands. Between the Revolutionary War and the Civil War the whaling industry employed more free African-American men than any other industry, although they continued to work as laborers rather than officers or owners until the industry was in steep decline.
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