Capt. George Comer: The Last Whaler

Arctic whaler Capt. Comer called East Haddam home, the Inuit his friends

George Comer was born in Quebec in 1858.  His father was lost at sea and his mother couldn’t support the children. He apparently spent some time in an orphanage, which placed him with a foster family in East Haddam as a young boy. He lived in town for the rest of his life..

 At the age of 17 in 1875 he walked from East Haddam to New London and shipped out on a whaler. Over the next 44 years, only three years passed during which he didn’t spend at least some time at sea.  Comer specialized in arctic whaling and sailed as captain or master of a ship for the first time in 1895. A typical voyage would be 27 months, about 16 months of which would be spent in winter quarters when the ship was completely frozen in the ice and there was virtually no activity possible.

In the 19th and early-20th century, eastern Connecticut was home to many successful merchant and whaling sea captains. Capt. George Comer of East Haddam, CT, was the last of the whaling captains sailing out of New London. He specialized in Arctic whaling. This clip is from the documentary, "Connecticut & the Sea," a Connecticut Experience documentary by town resident Ken Simon

Comer and his crew had to survive primarily on everything that they brought with them. For fresh meat they obtained deer meat and salmon from the Inuit in trade. There would be a community of Inuit camped through the entire winter right near the vessel and they became part of the social activity and all the activity during the winter season.

Comer developed a real affection for the Inuit. He also was a pioneer in arctic exploration.  He collected for some of the great natural history museums not just in the United States but in the world and became the leading authority in the world of the Inuit of the Hudson Bay region.

Captain Comer retired from the whaling industry in 1912 but it wasn’t the end of his maritime career. He participated later in a couple of arctic expeditions in association with the American Museum of Natural History. Despite the fact that he was 59 years old, he enlisted in the Navy during World War I and made several cruises onboard naval vessels.

 

When he came back he became involved in a trading and exploration venture heading again for Hudson Bay. He went back one more time in 1919 at the age of 62. It is said that the primary reason he went back was because he wanted to visit his Inuit friends.

Comer returned to East Haddam permanently at that point. He served a term in the Connecticut State Legislature and was a well-known town resident.  His health declined later in life in part because of the rigors of arctic whaling. Captain Comer was 79 years old when he died in 1937.

Tools used during Capt. Comer's Arctic Expeditions