HART, JOSEPH C. (1798–1855). A New Yorker whose mother’s family
came from Nantucket* Island, Joseph C. Hart is known today as the author
of Miriam Coffin, or The Whale-Fishermen (1834), a novel that was an important source for Moby-Dick* (1851).
An attorney, school principal, and author of several widely used geography
textbooks, Hart traveled to Nantucket sometime prior to 1834, where he
collected material for Miriam Coffin, a “semi-Romance of the Sea” based on the rise and fall of the notorious whaling merchant Kezia Coffin (1723–
1798). In addition to information about the Quakers and Indians of Nantucket Island during the Revolutionary War period, Hart’s novel provides
detailed (albeit anachronistic) descriptions of the Pacific whale fishery. Published anonymously, Hart’s novel was well received and reprinted within a
His subsequent book, The Romance of Yachting (1848), is known chiefly
today for the savage review it received from Herman Melville,* who deemed
this loose collection of musings on Shakespeare, the Puritans, Europe, music, and sailing “an abortion.” In 1854 Hart was appointed American consul
at Santa Cruz de Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where he died soon after
his arrival.