Owen Chase was a crew member aboard the ill-fated ship Essex when it was destroyed by a whale. The twenty survivors scrambled into three boats; only eight remained at the end of their ordeals. His account is Narrative of the Most Extraordinary and Distressing Shipwreck of the Whale-Ship Essex, of Nantucket (1821). The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick provides a great overview of this instance. A true near-contemporary account of whaling is found in the 1851 The whale and his captors; or, The whaleman’s adventures, and the whale’s biography; Moby Dick was published in 1851 as well. New Bedford Whaling Museum has several informative features, among them life aboard a whaler. The periodical Historic Nantucket is worth a read. Of particular importance is the Whalesmen’s Shipping Lists and Merchant Transcripts, the major source on American whaling activities with issues from 1843 until 1914.
Read the Eyewitness Account That Begat “Moby Dick”