Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War

Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War

Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War

Black Sailors: Afro-American Merchant Seamen and Whalemen Prior to the Civil War

Synopsis

Figures Preface How Many Were on the Ships The Black Complement Black Ship Officers Those Who Sailed What It All Meant Notes Appendix Bibliography Index

Excerpt

In a pilot study, which appeared in the April 1972 issue of the Journal of Negro History, I assessed the black presence on American ships in foreign commerce at Newport, Rhode Island, prior to the Civil War. The Newport study was part of an ongoing examination of the Bureau of Customs crew lists, shipping articles, manifests, ship registers, and protection papers begun in the early 1960s. These documents lend themselves to a wide variety of historical, social, and economic analyses.

This account represents an expansion of the scope of the Newport study to include more ports and a demography of black seamen and whalemen in the context of United States history. Regrettably, the records of the port of Boston were not available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. and reportedly were destroyed by fire. The omission of some crucial data on an exceptionally large number of New York port crew lists precluded an intensive study of blacks on the ships there.

In a sense, this is still a pilot project; one has to stop at some point and assess the findings. The hope is that others will examine the records of ports and time frames not included in this account. These documents are the best sources available for studying the horizontal and upward mobility, the urbanization, the out-migration from the South, the work habits, the earnings, the family ties, and the acculturation of a large body of free blacks. These sources reveal, among other things, evidence of a Cuffee dynasty wedded to the sea, the multiple commands of Captain William A. Leidesdorff on merchant ships and Captain Pardon Cook on whaling vessels, and a significant out-migration of black seamen and whalemen from the South.

I am indebted to Dr. Harold O. Lewis, Professor Emeritus of History at Howard University, for his valuable advice. I also want to acknowledge the help of a number of graduate assistants and two grants made by the Department of History of Howard University for aid in researching the New Orleans crew lists. At the National Archives, George T. Briscoe, an archivist technician, provided commendable service.

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