First Americans Sight Antarctica

First Americans Sight Antarctica

US #2386 pictures Palmer, his sloop Hero, and an outline of Antarctica.

On November 17, 1820, Nathaniel Palmer and his crew became the first Americans to see Antarctica.

Born in 1799 in Stonington, Connecticut, Palmer had a life-long love of the sea. As a child, he played in his father’s shipyard and began working on his first ship at just 14 years old.

US #2386 – Classic First Day Cover.

Palmer’s hometown of Stonington was a major sealing port. At that time, sealskins were a popular trade item with China. Palmer quickly established himself as a skilled and daring seal hunter during his frequent travels to South America. By the time Palmer turned 21, he had received his first command – captaining the 47-foot-long sloop Hero.

US #2386-89 honors Palmer and other American Antarctic explorers.

By 1820, the traditional sealing spots off the coasts of South America and the Falkland Islands were barren, leading explorers to search further south. That November, Palmer joined an expedition to the South Shetland Islands. When they found no seals there, Palmer forged ahead, taking advantage of his small boat that could easily navigate the islands.

US #1431 – The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1961 to foster scientific cooperation in the region.

On November 17, Palmer sailed south from Deception Island and saw “land not yet laid down on my chart.” Palmer and his men had found Antarctica. Two other explorers had seen the land earlier that year – Edward Bransfield and William Smith of Ireland and England respectively. But Palmer was the first American. The spot he sighted was later named Palmer Land in his honor. The following year, Palmer returned to the area and joined in the discovery of the nearby South Orkney Islands archipelago.

US #C130 was issued for the 50th anniversary of the Antarctic Treaty.

Palmer continued his successful sealing career until he embarked on a new career, sailing express freight around the world. During his decades at sea, Palmer saw first-hand the strengths and weaknesses of the day’s ships. He proposed and designed his own improvements, earning him a credit as co-developer of the clipper ship.

US #C130 – Fleetwood Plate Block First Day Cover.

In his later years, Palmer settled in Stonington, where he owned clipper ships that others sailed for him. His legacy in the Antarctic continues today with the Palmer Archipelago, Palmer Station, the clipper ship N.B. Palmer, and the icebreaker Nathaniel B. Palmer. Additionally, Hero Bay in the South Shetland Islands is named after his ship.

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