Q: "Nantucket coach"?

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Dec 9 07:05:47 UTC 2012

On 12/8/2012 11:15 PM, Joel S. Berson wrote:
> ....
> In his 1824-1827 story "Peter Rugg, the Missing Man," William Austin
> writes "The chair in which Rugg sat was very capacious, evidently
> made for service and calculated to last for ages. The timber would
> supply material for three modern carriages. This chair, like a
> Nantucket coach, would answer for everything that ever went on wheels."
> http://tinyurl.com/c7xhtp3
> What is a "Nantucket coach"?  I have not found any explanation, or
> even instances, not counting Austin's tale and various coaches of
> Nantucket sports teams.  Except for one -- Alain Geoffroy claims,
> referring to Austin's use, that it is "a local expression used to
> designate a whaleboat tugged by the whale once the harpoon has been
> stuck into the animal."
> http://laboratoires.univ-reunion.fr/oracle/documents/from_peter_rugg_to_paul_revere.html
> Geoffroy's source is -- 'Zimbalatti refers to the phrase as a
> "Nantucketism." "A Nantucket coach is not a type of stagecoach, but a
> reference to a whale. . . . Nantucket whalers referred to the upper
> jaw of a whale as both a 'coach' and a 'sleigh.' . . . Austin merely
> substitutes the synonymous term 'coach' for 'sleigh'
> (127).'  Zimbalatti = Zimbalatti, Joseph A.. Anti-Calvinist Allegory:
> A Critical Edition of William Austin's "Peter Rugg, the Missing Man,"
> Ph.D., (Fordham University, N.Y., 1992).  I don't know what
> Zimbalatti's authority is. ....

I speculate that Zimbalatti or somebody is just speculating here ...
more wildly than well, maybe.

Why should the expression have anything to do with whales?

"Nantucket sleigh-ride" is in DARE and elsewhere, but I don't see any
evidence of a variant such as "Nantucket coach-ride".

The Austin text says (as I read it) that Rugg's vehicle, "like a
Nantucket coach," was a non-specialized conveyance which could serve in
various capacities.

Apparently it was customary in Nantucket to use a simple cart as a
passenger carriage, and I think that can naturally explain the reference.


1841: <<Scarcely any sound is heard in most of its streets, by day or
night, excepting the shrill voices of the juvenile venders of vegetables
and fruit, as they thread the mazy avenues in the well-known vehicle of
the island. / This vehicle (a small, green cart, with high sides, and
generally without springs or mounting step) is dignified by the cognomen
of _calash_, and is in almost universal use, for the various purposes of
carrying produce, merchandise, or parties of pleasure; and maintains its
respectability among the inhabitants generally, although the chaise is
not unfrequently seen, and the caryall, barouche, and coach even, are
known there.>>


1844: <<There is one species of carriage peculiar to Nantucket, which
were generally crowded with children, or whole families we might suppose
were the occupants. These were what we should call horse-carts, some
upon two, and others upon four wheels. The old fashion was to have them
without springs, and there were many of this description: but an
improvement was noticed on the greater part, in their being hung upon
elliptical steel springs. These we found upon trial to be a most
comfortable carriage. A few chairs are set in them for the elderly part
of the family, while the younger members stand up. In one of these
literal _carry-alls_, we counted _twentynine_ children ....>>

And other such references can be found.

So I think "Nantucket coach" probably just means "all-purpose cart used
as a coach in/on Nantucket".

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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