Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail by W. Jeffrey Bolster

By W. Jeffrey Bolster

Few americans, black or white, realize the measure to which early African American background is a maritime background. W. Jeffrey Bolster shatters the parable that black seafaring within the age of sail used to be constrained to the center Passage. Seafaring used to be the most major occupations between either enslaved and unfastened black males among 1740 and 1865. Tens of millions of black seamen sailed on lofty clippers and modest coasters. They sailed in whalers, warships, and privateers. a few have been slaves, compelled to paintings at sea, yet via 1800 such a lot have been unfastened males, looking liberty and financial chance aboard send. Bolster brings an intimate figuring out of the ocean to this impressive bankruptcy within the formation of black the USA. due to their strange mobility, sailors have been the eyes and ears to worlds past the constrained horizon of black groups ashore. occasionally aiding to smuggle slaves to freedom, they have been extra frequently a special conduit for information and knowledge of outrage to blacks. yet for all its possibilities, existence at sea used to be tricky. Blacks actively contributed to the Atlantic maritime tradition shared by way of all seamen, yet have been usually outsiders inside it. taking pictures that rigidity, Black Jacks examines not just how universal reports drew black and white sailors together--even as deeply internalized prejudices drove them apart--but additionally how the that means of race aboard send replaced with time. Bolster lines the tale to the top of the Civil battle, whilst emancipated blacks started to be systematically excluded from maritime paintings. Rescuing African American seamen from obscurity, this stirring account finds the serious function sailors performed in supporting forge new identities for black humans in the United States. An epic story of the increase and fall of black seafaring, Black Jacks is African american citizens' freedom tale awarded from a clean point of view. (19990101)

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20 Fragmentary sources preclude exact knowledge of what percentage of the male slave population in eighteenth-century Caribbean colonies followed the sea. Edward Long estimated in 1773 that about 15 percent of Jamaica’s 170,000 slaves were “tradesmen, sailors, fishermen &c. ” Of these it seems likely that several thousand were mariners, wharf workers, and fishermen—roughly 3 to 4 percent of the male slaves in what was then a mature sugar economy. Clearly, most of these men worked along the busy Jamaican coast, although some rode the Gulf Stream to North America or bucked the Atlantic to Europe.

46 Black and white sailors regarded impressment and naval service from their own distinct vantage points. Black men had every reason to fear the press: it was quite colorblind. But free black sailors circu- Black Sailors in Plantation America  lating around the Atlantic faced the constant and greater fear of enslavement. After Peter van Trump shipped in a brigantine from St. Thomas, bound, he thought, for Europe in the summer of 1725, he discovered that Captain Mackie’s actual destination was North Carolina.

A “Negro man named Luke” ran off from his master in Cainboy, South Carolina, in 1763. ” A “mustee man slave, born in Caracoa [that is, Curaçao, Dutch West Indies], about 50 years of age,” ran off from the schooner Hannah in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1783. ”62 Multilingual men like these, with extensive knowledge of the Americas, had better-than-average chances to escape from their masters and, perhaps more significantly, the ability to spin yarns that implicitly or explicitly drama- Black Sailors in Plantation America  tized commonalities (and differences) among widely dispersed people of color.

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