Captain John D'Wolf II (1779-1872), member of a prominent slave-trading family of Bristol, Rhode Island, was the uncle of author Herman Melville (1819-1891). D'Wolf informed Melville's view of life at sea: he appears in "Moby Dick" (1851) as an experienced ship captain.

In his twenties, D'Wolf was the first United States citizen to cross Siberia. In his eighties, he wrote a fabulous book called A voyage to the North Pacific and a journey through Siberia more than half a century ago (1861). Melville is not mentioned in the text; Melville's biography says that D'Wolf made him a gift of a copy, supposedly one of an edition of only one hundred.

I wonder if an ancient ship captain could write a first-class travelogue like this without the support of a professional author. Did Melville help D'Wolf with his book?

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    I would point out that this was an era when writing was the only long-distance communications method available to most people, so it probably wouldn't be a shocking then as it would be in say the end of the 20th century that someone with a non-literary profession might be competent at it.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 4, 2017 at 20:15
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    @T.E.D.: Note further that keeping an accurate and readable "ship's log", at least every watch change (ie 4 hours), was an integral part of every (remotely competent) Captain's routine. Oct 4, 2017 at 20:40
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    Page iv of the Preface has some relevant points:'I have often regretted that I did not make any note of what I saw, and that I had not the requisite qualifications to write an extended account of it ;...which are drawn principally from memory. '
    – justCal
    Oct 4, 2017 at 23:05
  • @T.E.D. good point. I get the impression that people took more time to write back then. Oct 5, 2017 at 4:16
  • Melville was a "professional author" only because he took the trouble to publish his work and it was well received. It's not as if he studied creative writing, got a degree in it, etc, before attempting to launch that career. Eventually, he was an "Experienced" author. There is no reason to think either of these writers was more or less skilled when they first sat down to write. If Melville's first work was well written, why should his uncle (or anyone else's) not be? Mar 20, 2018 at 11:56

1 Answer 1


Dr. John Bryant, President of The Melville Society, kindly told me: "I don't see any mention of HM's assistance or collaboration with his Uncle on making this book." He left the door open as to the existence of such evidence. Thus, the question has not yet been answered in the affirmative.

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