Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail

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Harvard University Press, Jun 30, 2009 - History - 352 pages
2 Reviews

Few Americans, black or white, recognize the degree to which early African American history is a maritime history. W. Jeffrey Bolster shatters the myth that black seafaring in the age of sail was limited to the Middle Passage. Seafaring was one of the most significant occupations among both enslaved and free black men between 1740 and 1865. Tens of thousands of black seamen sailed on lofty clippers and modest coasters. They sailed in whalers, warships, and privateers. Some were slaves, forced to work at sea, but by 1800 most were free men, seeking liberty and economic opportunity aboard ship.

Bolster brings an intimate understanding of the sea to this extraordinary chapter in the formation of black America. Because of their unusual mobility, sailors were the eyes and ears to worlds beyond the limited horizon of black communities ashore. Sometimes helping to smuggle slaves to freedom, they were more often a unique conduit for news and information of concern to blacks.

But for all its opportunities, life at sea was difficult. Blacks actively contributed to the Atlantic maritime culture shared by all seamen, but were often outsiders within it. Capturing that tension, "Black Jacks" examines not only how common experiences drew black and white sailors together--even as deeply internalized prejudices drove them apart--but also how the meaning of race aboard ship changed with time. Bolster traces the story to the end of the Civil War, when emancipated blacks began to be systematically excluded from maritime work. Rescuing African American seamen from obscurity, this stirring account reveals the critical role sailors played in helping forge new identities for black people in America.

An epic tale of the rise and fall of black seafaring, "Black Jacks" is African Americans' freedom story presented from a fresh perspective.

  

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Black jacks: African American seamen in the age of sail

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Licensed master mariner Bolster (history, Univ. of New Hampshire) writes a descriptively rich, engaging narrative of African American seafarers from the 1740s to the 1860s. He recounts how tens of ... Read full review

Review: Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail

User Review  - Roger Grande - Goodreads

Great book, fantastically researched and written, dense with evidence. Places African Americans, including those enslaved, as agents and central to their own destiny. Great examples of resistance to slavery in different forms. Read full review

Contents

To Tell the Tale
1 The Emergence of Black Sailors in Plantation America
2 African Roots of Black Seafaring
3 The Way of a Ship
4 The Boundaries of Race in Maritime Culture
5 Possibilities for Freedom
6 Precarious Pillar of the Black Community
7 Free Sailors and the Struggle with Slavery
8 Toward Jim Crow at Sea
Tables
Notes
Acknowledgments
Index
Copyright

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About the author (2009)

W. Jeffrey Bolster is Hortense Cavis Shepherd Associate Professor and Director of the Graduate Studies Program of the History Department at the University of New Hampshire.

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