Allan Melvill's import business goes bankrupt. The family is forced to leave New York City and move to Albany in order to escape his many creditors.
Allan Melvill dies, leaving his wife alone with eight children. A young Herman drops out of school and takes a series of odd jobs in order to support his family.
Melville decides to go to sea. He makes his first sea voyage with the merchant marine ship the St. Lawrence.
Melville travels with his friend Eli Fly along the Mississippi River to Illinois, where his uncle has settled. When he discovers that there are no jobs for him in Illinois, Melville returns to New York City.
Jan 3, 1841
Melville signs up for the whaling ship Acushnet, which sets sail from Fairhaven, Massachusetts. Melville signs on for what is supposed to be a three-year journey.
Melville abandons the Acushnet and spends three weeks living among the Typee natives of the Marquesas Islands. He leaves the island on another ship bound for Hawaii, and spends most of the next two years at sea.
Oct 3, 1844
Melville returns to New York after his final sea voyage on the frigate United States. He begins writing a series of semi-autobiographical novels about his time at sea.
Melville's first novel, Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life, is published. It is an account of his time among the Typee natives of the Marquesas. Readers love it.
May 1, 1847
Melville's second novel, Omoo, is published. It is also about life in Polynesia. In it, Melville criticizes the proselytizing actions of white missionaries. It is also a success.
Aug 4, 1847
Melville marries Elizabeth Shaw, the daughter of Massachusetts Supreme Court Chief Justice Lemuel Shaw.
Melville publishes two novels this year, Mardi and Redburn. The Melvilles' first child, son Malcolm, is born.
Melville's novel White-Jacket is published. He is struggling with the draft of a new novel about a doomed whaling voyage. On a summer trip to the Berkshire Mountains, he meets writer Nathaniel Hawthorne, who becomes a friend and inspiration. Melville purchases a home in the Berkshires named Arrowhead and moves his family there.
Melville's masterpiece, Moby-Dick, is published. Though the story of Captain Ahab is eventually considered an American classic, sales at the time are disappointing. The Melvilles' second son, Stanwix, is born. Melville names him for his grandfather, Peter Gansevoort, who was known as the Hero of Fort Stanwix for his efforts in the Revolutionary War.
Aug 6, 1852
Melville follows Moby-Dick with the novel Pierre. The public reaction to the book is summarized by the critic who calls it "utterly unworthy of Mr. Melville's genius."40
The Melvilles' daughter Elizabeth is born. Disheartened by his reviews as a novelist, Melville tries his hand at short stories. His first piece, "Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street," appears in Putnam's Monthly Magazine. Melville publishes fifteen short pieces in…