Nestled at the bottom of an old leather trunk for well over a century lay a forgotten manuscript--a long-lost story the author's great-great-grandson has now brought to life. At the heart of A Whaler at Twilight is the true account of an American whaler who embarked on a harrowing adventure in the South Pacific during the mid-nineteenth century in search of absolution and redemption. After the deaths of his parents, young Robert Armstrong lived with a successful uncle--a well-respected Methodist shopkeeper in bustling 1840s Baltimore--and attended the nation's first dental school. But Armstrong threw his future away, drinking himself into oblivion. Devoured by guilt and shame, in December 1849 he sold his dental instruments, his watch, and all other possessions and signed on for a whaling voyage departing from New Bedford.
Decades later, Armstrong wrote an autobiographical account based on his travel logs, chronicling his thrilling, gritty experiences during his ten years overseas. His memoirs describe his encounters with other whalers, beachcombers, Peruvian villagers, Pacific Islanders, Maori warriors in New Zealand, cannibals on Fiji, and the impacts of American expansionism. He also recounted his struggles with drink, his quest for God, and his own redemption.
Armstrong's gripping personal account is bookended by thoroughly researched contextual background compiled by Alexander Brash, a noted professional conservationist. Brash fills out Armstrong's intimate and timeless tale by shedding further light on whaling and its impacts, his ancestor's religious milieu, and the importance of marine conservation today. A Whaler at Twilight is a fascinating dive into both human morality and American history.
Alexander R. Brash was born and raised in New York City. An early love for birds evolved into a passion for quantitative community ecology and then a devotion to conservation. Along the way he worked on Great Gull Island, in the American Museum of Natural History, and graduated from Buckley School, Hotchkiss School, Connecticut College, Yale School for the Environment, and worked on a PhD at Rutgers University. After a hurricane wiped out his study site, he took a job with NYC Parks and rose to be the chief park anger, managing the agency's uniformed officers, Natural Resource Group, Communications, Historic House Trust, and Special Events. At NYC Parks he initiated the Forever Wild Project, now 47 park preserves covering over 8,700 acres, Project X, the city's first program to re-introduce extirpated species, and he was a first responder on 9/11. After nearly two decades in New York, he joined the National Parks Conservation Association as the northeast regional director lobbying for our national parks, particularly bringing attention to the system's urban parks and cultural icons, as well as initiating the effort to establish Katahdin Woods, Stonewall Inn, and Paterson Falls as new national parks. Alex then spent three years as president of Connecticut Audubon, which he re-invigorated by moving its finances into the black, tripling its endowment, doubling the size of its nature preserves, and re-aligning its educational programs with STEM. Now retired in Riverside, Connecticut, he enjoys consulting, writing, traveling, birding, and spending time with family. Happily married to Jane, they have two great children, Ian and Emily. Robert W. Armstrong was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1828, the only child of William and Rebecca Armstrong. After attending the esteemed Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, the world's first dental school, he served for a short while as a dentist in the Midwest and the South. He then spent ten years in the South Pacific as a whaler and a logger before returning to Baltimore and starting a second career as a store clerk. He worked at his uncle's millinery firm Armstrong, Cator and Co. Soon after, he married Eudocia Muller and together they opened their own successful millinery store on Lexington Street, which Eudocia ultimately managed. The couple had eight children, and later in life Robert became more involved in church and community affairs. Robert died peacefully in 1902 and lies with his family in Mount Olivet Cemetery.