Preserved Fish Biography: From Whaling Captain to Banking Tycoon in 19th Century New York


Explore the dynamic life of Preserved Fish (1766-1846), an American merchant and banker whose journey led him from the high seas as a whaling captain to the bustling business landscape of 19th-century New York. Discover how Fish organized successful enterprises, marketed whale oil, operated a renowned line of packets, and ultimately became the president of the Tradesman’s Bank.

Preserved Fish


Preserved Fish; (1766-1846), American merchant and banker, who organized major business enterprises in New York City. He first marketed whale oil, then operated a line of packets that traded with England and New Orleans, and finally became president of the Tradesman’s Bank in New York.

He was born in Portsmouth, R. I., on July 3, 1766, and worked briefly in his father’s blacksmith shop. While in his teens he shipped out on a whaler bound for the Pacific. By the time he was 21 he was a captain.

In his 40’s, Fish turned from seafaring to the less exciting but more profitable role of whale oil merchant in New Bedford, Mass. Although successful in this business, Fish sold his interests at considerable loss and moved to the most rapidly growing business community in the East, New York City. There in 1815 he helped organize the firm of Fish and Grinnell for merchandising New England whale oil. According to legend, the firm sold “two kinds of oil, good and bad.” But it prospered to become one of the leading mercantile firms of the city, operating a line of packets that bore comparison with the famous Black Ball Line.

Shortly after 1823, Fish quarreled with his partners, the Grinnell brothers—Joseph, Henry, and Moses Hicks Grinnell—and left the firm. After unsuccessful business ventures in England over a period of two years and in New York, he retired for seven years. He came out of retirement in 1836 to accept the presidency of the newly founded Tradesman’s Bank, and he served in that post for the rest of his life. Accounts of his life indicate that he was a man of great energy and shrewd judgment but that lie lacked diplomacy and tact. Fish died in New York City on July 23, 1846.


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