Herman Melville Biography

Herman Melville was born August 1, 1819, in New York City. His parents were Allan Melville, a Unitarian, who made a living as a merchant-importer, and Maria Gansevoort Melville of New York Dutch ancestry and a member of the Calvinistic Dutch-Reformed Church. Herman’s father was volatile and slightly unstable in character during Herman’s childhood. In 1832, when Herman was 14, his father died in debt. He left his mother with 8 children to care for. Melville grew up in an atmosphere of severe poverty, and shuffled from towns such as New York, Albany, and Pittsfield. As Herman grew up, he held many distinct problems, from resentment and grief for the debts and death of his father, to the matter of supporting such a large family. To get away from the problems at home and to get some adventure, Melville in 1837, at the age of 18, went to sea. On this first voyage, Melville embarked as a ships-boy on a merchant ship bound for Liverpool, England.
In 1841, at the age of 22 became a sailor on the whaler Acushnet. It is upon this voyage that Melville had most of his early adventures. Melville jumped ship with his friend Toby in the Marquesas Islands and soon fell prey as a captive to the “cannibalistic” Typee tribe. After being rescued from the Typees, Melville took part in a mutiny and was arrested in Tahiti. When Melville was released, he departed the island on another whaler which brought him to Honolulu. Melville, departed from Honolulu to become a sailor in the United States Navy, he boarded the U.S.S United States and after a fourteen month voyage was discharged in Boston in October of 1844. After all this high adventure in so few years, Melville was ready to depart from his younger years and enter into adulthood. Melville himself states that during his younger years, he was in constant search of himself and adventure, “until I was twenty-five, I had no development at all. From my twenty-fifth year I date my life. Three weeks have scarcely passed, at any time between then and now, that I have not unfolded within myself.” Herman Melville’s early life was marked by the death of his father and his family problems. The adventures that Melville departed on to when he was young provided much of the raw material for his inspiring novels, such as Moby Dick, and Billy Bud, that are appreciated even today.

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