Monday, February 16, 2015

Famous Black Firsts: Whale Ship Captain Absalom Boston

When I first read this one I thought that the years had to be wrong. I couldn't imagine a Black man, free or not, being allowed to own and run their own whale ship back then. Absalom Boston, born 1785 in Nantucket, Massachusetts, was the first Black man to captain a whale ship with an all Black crew in 1822. Absalom was born to a former slave and Native American mother which was all the rage back then and even fairly recently. Both of my grandmothers were Native Americans that married Black men. His uncle, Prince Boston, was the first Black slave to win his freedom from a jury trial after refusing to give his money to his slave master in 1770. 

By the time he was 20 years old Absalom had enough o buy property and later got a license to open and run an inn. His ship, The Industry, did a six month journey and returned with 70 barrels of whale oil which was used to make oil for lamps, soap, and margarine. This journey is also remarkable for the fact that his entire crew survived. He retired shortly after this and ran for office as well as ran a business and became a leader of the community. He and another captain, Edward Pompey, led the abolitionist movement in Nantucket. In 1845 his daughter, Phebe Ann Boston, was kept from attending a public school. They obviously didn't know this family's history. Absalom fought and won a lawsuit against the municipal government to then integrate the public school system there.

Click here for previous Famous Black Firsts.

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