1988 25¢ Antarctic Explorers: Nathaniel Palmer
U.S. #2386 pictures Palmer, his sloop Hero, and an outline of Antarctica.

First Americans Sight Antarctica

On November 17, 1820, Nathaniel Palmer and his crew became the first Americans (and the third group of explorers) 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.

British Antarctic Territory #72-75 – The British were the first of eight nations to claim territory there, dating back to 1908.

Palmer’s hometown of Stonington was a major sealing port. At that time, seal skins 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.

French South & Antarctic Territory #C1-2 – The French laid their claim in 1924.

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.

Australian Antarctic Territory #L75 – Australia laid its claim in 1933.

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, 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.

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.

1971 8c Antarctic Treaty
U.S. #1431 – The Antarctic Treaty was signed in 1961 to foster scientific cooperation in the region.

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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  1. Perhaps we might have been told about the ‘two other explorers’ who’d been there first. It’s great that USA has been a pioneering country in this pursuit, but that’s all the reader is left with: information about USA and Antarctica; forget about the rest of the World and Antarctica before Cpt Nathaniel Palmer (god bless). Many thanks again for this fantastic service from Mystic Stamps, and long may it continue, free from current western political/press drive to rewrite history. Cheers. GdR

    1. Today marks the day Palmer saw Antarctica, and the fact that they mentioned the other explorers proves that history is not being re written.

    1. Dear Dr. GdR…With all due respect, If I may comment to your conjecture:

      “….free from current western political/press drive to rewrite history.”

      This piece of information, IMHO is not an historical rewrite. From what I have seen in other documentaries, South Pole AKA Antarctica, Australian Antarctica and British Antarctic Territory to name a few, has been flagged by many a Mariner/Voyager during there own historical or routine ventures in the South Seas, but I digress.

      For what its worth, there was and still is quite enough writers embellishment Worldwide on this subject as to naming who was there first. Who really knows who was? For example: Before records were kept, there were explorers and fisherman over the ions who may have landed there and left it as was.

      Nevertheless, this article is about the US Stamp and how Palmer made his mark as a Mariner and built a Fleet well renown for his day. He set up endpoints along the way via landmarks now bearing his name. For that he has been recognized on a US Postal Stamp. If the two predecessors or any other voyagers before him went as far as he did, and perhaps they did…..meaning charting the voyage and so on, perhaps we would be discussing those ventures instead.

      Although the article does not imply credit for the earlier sightings to anyone in particular, perhaps those Nations of their origin have their equivalent to this stamp. Mystic…any idea?

      Great article. Thanks for these daily historical recounts.


  2. Thanks for all the great history lessons. It does point out how stamp collecting is an enjoyable way to learn about the world. The stamps are miniature jewels. As a boy my hero and namesake Franklin Roosevelt was a model for me in starting my stamp collecting as a young boy in Brooklyn from a working class family. It generated an interest in history and geography and a curiosity about the world. Since then I have been fortunate to travel extensively and to understand diversity.

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