Both colonial forces and the English Navy suspected that Nantucket whalers were trading with the enemy. When whale ships were in the midst of voyages, British cruisers often captured the vessels, seizing the goods on board and imprisoning whalemen. Crew members were given the option of enlisting in the British navy or joining the crew of a British whaling ship. Some captured whalemen accepted these offers while others steadfastly refused. When Nantucket whaling captain Nathaniel Folger's ship was captured by the British, the outspoken captain chose to be imprisoned rather than fight on a British naval vessel. "Hang me if you will to the yardarm of your ship," he declared defiantly, "but do not ask me to be a traitor to my country."
Many other whalemen did agree to join the English whaling fleet. John Adams, a colonial diplomat and politician, wrote to Massachusetts leaders during the Revolutionary War explaining that "at least four hundred and fifty of the best kind of seamen" were being forced by the English to whale off the coast of Brazil. These officers and men, he argued, could be recaptured and used by "the American service to act against the Enemy."
Library of Congress