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William T. Shorey
On this date, we celebrate the birth of William Shorey, a Black whaling captain and entrepreneur, in 1859.
Born on the island of Barbados, William T. Shorey was attracted to the sea early in his life. A seaman's life was not easy, but for Shorey, and many other Black men, it offered opportunity and a freedom unattainable in other occupations. In 1875, as a crew member aboard a British vessel bound for Boston, Shorey gained the attention of the ship's captain, who took time to teach him the basics of navigation. By 1880, Shorey had become an officer.
He sailed out of Boston harbor aboard the Emma F. Herriman on a three-year whaling voyage that would eventually take him to San Francisco. While stationed on the West Coast, he advanced his rank from officer third class to first officer. After only ten years at sea, Shorey became the only Black captain on the West Coast. A whaling career was treacherous and unusually short, Shorey's skills as commander were often tested. His intelligence and experience earned the respect and admiration of his crew.
In 1887, he married Julia Ann Shelton, the daughter of a prominent San Francisco family. The Shorey residence in Oakland was at 1774 Division Street.
In 1891, with the brig Alexander under his command and sinking in the Arctic ice pack in the Bering Sea, Shorey did not suffer a single casualty. 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.” His nickname was "Black Ahab" from the Herman Melville novel "Moby Dick."
Shorey retired from whaling in 1908. By that time the whaling industry in the United States was dying. Once oil was discovered, the demand for whale products rapidly declined. He spent the remainder of his days ashore in Oakland until his death in 1919.
The Black West by William Loren Katz.
A Touchtone Book, published by Simon & Shuster Inc.
Copyright 1987, 1996 by Ethrac Publications, Inc.