Whaling Captains of Color

America's First Meritocracy

  • Subject: Spring 2020 Catalog | Age of Sail
  • Format:
    Hardcover
  • Pages:
    304
    pages
  • Published:
    June 15, 2020
  • ISBN-10:
    1682475093
  • ISBN-13:
    9781682475096
  • Product Dimensions:
    9.25 × 6.125 × 1 in
  • Product Weight:
    23 oz
Hardcover $42.00
Member Price $25.20 Save 40%
Book: Cover Type

Overview

The history of whaling as an industry on this continent has been well-told in books, including some that have been bestsellers, but what hasn’t been told is the story of whaling’s leaders of color in an era when the only other option was slavery. Whaling was one of the first American industries to exhibit diversity. A man became a captain not because he was white or well connected, but because he knew how to kill a whale. Along the way, he could learn navigation and reading and writing. Whaling presented a tantalizing alternative to mainland life.

Working with archival records at whaling museums, in libraries, from private archives and interviews with people whose ancestors were whaling masters, Finley culls stories from the lives of over 50 black whaling captains to create a portrait of what life was like for these leaders of color on the high seas.

Each time a ship spotted a whale, a group often including the captain would jump into a small boat, row to the whale, and attack it, at times with the captain delivering the killing blow. The first, second, or third mate and boat steerer could eventually have opportunities to move into increasingly responsible roles. Finley explains how this skills-based system propelled captains of color to the helm.

 The book concludes as facts and factions conspire to kill the industry, including wars, weather, bad management, poor judgment, disease, obsolescence, and a non-renewable natural resource. Ironically, the end of the Civil War allowed the African Americans who were captains to exit the difficult and dangerous occupation—and make room for the Cape Verdean who picked up the mantle, literally to the end of the industry. 

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

"The story of people of color in the whaling industry is a fascinating and hitherto unexplored subject enough, but Skip Finley’s brilliant survey of the black captains and crew of the New England whale fisheries takes it one step further. His swift and sure narrative is excitingly told, bringing a fresh and vibrant focus to a vital part of American, and indeed global, history.” —Philip Hoare, author of The Whale
"Skip Finley provides a fascinating portrait of the turbulent and fraught world of the men of color who not only were whalemen, but also became leaders in one of America's most iconic industries. Whaling Captains of Color is a most welcome and long overdue addition to the literature, and one which will hopefully spur others to dig deeper into this important aspect of whaling history." —Eric Jay Dolin, author of Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America
“Much more than a prodigious work of scholarship, Whaling Captains of Color is also an entertaining read that puts the focus where it properly belongs: on the multicultural essence of a fishery that spanned the globe. Highly recommended.” —Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex
“In this engaging new volume, Skip Finley has written a comprehensive account of the over fifty sailors of color who rose to captain America’s great whaling ships. Meticulously researched, Whaling Captains of Color provides an overview of the 200 years of industrial whaling, a profession in which a relative meritocracy existed. In addition, Finley provides a critically important analysis of the social and legal conditions on land which encouraged so many people of color to brave the dangers of the sea.” —Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
Whaling Captains of Color by Skip Finley is a fascinating exploration of the lives of multicultural whalemen, mostly unknown to us until now, during the eighteenth and nineteenth century in America…. Skip Finley thoughtfully honors and illustrates how the men of color in this book shaped commercial whaling, one of America’s earliest global industries. I highly recommend this book.” —Alicia Carney, Nantucket Book Festival
“In Whaling Captains of Color, Island writer Skip Finley has produced an extraordinary work that will change your perspective on the highly romanticized whaling era in American history, and the role of people of color in a trade that brought whalers fortunes and death.” —Martha’s Vineyard Times