African American Whaling Ship Captains: Part 2 — William Thomas Shorey, the Black Ahab

WilliamshoreyAs we noted in our post yesterday, over nearly three centuries of whaling, some 175,000 men went to sea in 2,700 ships. Of the 2,500 masters who captained whaling ships, at least 63 were men of color. Many of the 63 sailed from the US East Coast, including Absalom Boston, Paul Cuffee, William A. Martin, and Collins A. Stevenson, among others. Here is a revised repost from 2014, about a black whaling ship master from the West Coast in last days of the whale fisheries, Captain Shorey. 

Captain William Thomas Shorey, who was affectionately nicknamed “Black Ahab” by his crew, was born in Barbados in 1859 and ran away to sea as a young man. He learned navigation from a British ship captain and became a ship’s officer by the age of 21. After only a decade at sea, he rose to command whaling ships sailing out of San Francisco.

In 1886 Shorey married Julia Ann Shelton, daughter of one of the leading black families in San Francisco. Together they had five children and Captain Shorey occasionally took his family to sea with him.  Captain Shorey was known as  a skilled and lucky captain. Nicknamed “Black Ahab,”  unlike Melville’s captain, Shorey had a reputation for “happy ships” and as a captain that brought his ships and crews home safely.  Returning to port in 1907 after surviving two typhoons, the crew testified that “nothing but Captain Shorey’s coolness and clever seamanship saved [it from] a wreck.”

As the whaling industry collapsed with the advent of cheap petroleum,  Shorey retired from whaling in 1908.  He died in the Spanish flue pandemic of 1919 at the age of 60.

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