SAIL Black History Month Series: Absalom Boston

Author:
Publish date:

Today’s sailing community is pretty homogenous, but it hasn’t always been like that; at the beginning of the 19th Century, 20 percent of American sailors were Black. In fact, going to sea was one of the most equitable professions for Black Americans during the United States’ first centuries. The rich maritime history of Black sailors, whalers, and entrepreneurs is as inspiring as it is under-discussed. So, during Black History Month, we’re celebrating the history and legacy of Black sailors in America by featuring a notable figure in our e-newsletter every Friday. 

BHM-Absalom Boston

Absalom Boston was an abolitionist and whaling captain from Nantucket, Massachusetts. He was born in 1785 to Seneca Boston and Thankful Micah who were African American and Wampanoag respectively.

Like over 3,000 other Black New Englanders, Boston went to work on whaling ships. The whaling industry was not a glamorous career. The work was difficult and dangerous, and racist attitudes were ever-present. But unlike most other jobs, Black sailors would receive the same compensation as their white counterparts and could hold high ranks and positions of responsibility. Going to sea became a comparatively good option for many Black men, and they were twice as likely to join the trade as white men.

Boston found success in whaling and was able save enough to purchase his own land on Nantucket by just 20 years old. He then took some time off whaling to open an Inn.

At age 37, Boston returned to the sea as captain of The Industry on which led a successful six-month voyage. Notably, he was the first whaling captain to lead an all-Black crew. He returned with 70 barrels of oil and every single one of his sailors, which was a remarkable feat in such a perilous industry. This would be his final whaling voyage as, upon returning home, he turned his attention to civil rights.

He wasn’t the first in his family to pave the way for progressive change. Absalom’s father and uncle Prince grew up enslaved. Years before Absalom’s birth, Prince had been sent to sea on a whaling voyage. Upon his return, he refused to hand his wages over to his enslaver and ultimately went to court over it. Prince won, and he was both allowed to keep his earnings and granted freedom. Notably, he was the first African American to be emancipated via jury trial.

Perhaps Prince’s strength of character and legislative activism were impressed upon his nephew who, after retiring from his final whaling voyage, became an advocate for Nantucket’s Black community. He established the African Meeting House in Nantucket and Nantucket’s African Baptist Society. When the all-white high school refused to educate his daughter, he put together a lawsuit to challenge them and won. Nantucket integrated their public schools in 1845, over one hundred years before Brown v. Board of Education. By the time Boston died in 1855, he was a respected community leader, wealthy landowner and tireless advocate for cooperative race relations between Nantucketers. 

To check out other installments in this series, click here for Civil War maritime hero William Tillman or click here for American Revolution-era entrepreneur, sailor and abolitionist Paul Cuffe. Click here for sailmaker, entrepreneur, and activist James Forten.

February 2021

Related

FB-BHM-1024

SAIL Black History Month Series: James Forten

James Forten was born on September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia to free Black parents Thomas and Margaret Forten. Forten attended a Quaker school as a young child, then went to work with his father who was a sailmaker. His father died when he was still young, and Forten worked ...read more

sailme-app_ SAIL

5 Ways Sail.me Helps You Monetize Your Boat

Ready to earn some extra funds by renting out your boat or yacht? Sail.me is an interactive service that allows you to monetize your boat in a secure, safe, and easy way. A user-friendly app and website will help you manage reservations, add-ons, and set customized routes to ...read more

VendeePromo

2020-21 Vendée Timeline

As a spectator event, France’s Vendée Globe never disappoints, and the 2020-21 edition of the quadrennial round-the-world race was no exception. From equipment failures to climactic rescues, heartbreaking abandonments and a breathtakingly close finish, this edition, which ...read more

valleytrunk3

BVI Chartering in the Pandemic

The week before I flew out to the British Virgin Islands for a bareboat charter, I was having a few second thoughts. The islands had broken out of their Covid-enforced tourism hiatus in December, but the conditions of entry seemed a little stringent: a negative Covid test within ...read more

01-LEAD-windfarm

Sailing Amid Offshore Wind Farms

Here in Europe, the general feeling about green energy from offshore wind turbines has moved on after an initial surge of general skepticism. Concerns raised over cost, threats to seabirds, wind interference and the rest have to some extent been answered, and it’s hard to argue ...read more

LunaRossaPrada

VIDEO: Luna Rossa Wins the Prada Cup

The show has gone on despite last week's Covid panic in Auckland, and the "underdog" Italians are victorious. After being bested by INEOS Team UK in the round robin section, they seemed to have an uphill battle ahead of them going into the finals. However, the Italians have been ...read more

FB-BHM-Cuffe-2048x

SAIL Black History Month Series: Paul Cuffe

Paul Cuffe was born on Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts, in 1759. His mother was a Native American woman named Ruth Moses, and his father was Kofi Slocum, a formerly enslaved man from the Ashanti Empire, located in modern-day Ghana. They had 10 children including Paul. His ...read more

Ryan-Finn

Point of SAIL: Ryan Finn on Solo-sailing a Proa Round Cape Horn

In this episode of Point of SAIL, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with solo-sailor Ryan Finn, a veteran bluewater passagemaker looking to re-create the famed New York-to-San Francisco clipper aboard the 36ft proa, Jzerro. Although Finn was forced to abandon his first attempt ...read more