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The written history of Nantucket dates back to the 11th century when it was spotted by Norsemen sailors, but the first settlement was not made for a few hundred more years.
Native Americans were the first inhabitants of the island, but in 1659, a group of Englishmen bought the land for the unbelievable price of thirty pounds and two beaver-hide hats. This group’s purpose for buying the land was to make a settlement that was away from the religious beliefs of the puritans on the mainland of Massachusetts.
During the late 1600’s, whaling became a large source of income for the island’s inhabitants. However, after a few years of hunting these marine mammals at reckless rates, their numbers diminished and capturing them close to shore was no longer an option.
In the early 1700’s, Sperm Whaling became a large industry on the island. The oil from these whales was more valuable, which made heading further into the ocean a worthwhile option. During the early 1800’s, Nantucket had established itself as the whaling capital of the world. During this economic boom, the city expanded to the third largest in all of Massachusetts.
By the time the civil war came around, the profitability of whaling had began to decline.
Today, one of the major producers of revenue for the island is tourism. For more information, check out this detailed history of Nantucket.