Free Download | Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail | W. Jeffrey Bolster

Few Americans recognize the degree to which early African American history is a maritime history. Seafaring was one of the most significant occupations among both enslaved and free black men between 1740 and 1865. W. Jeffrey Bolster, master mariner and historian, presents here an extraordinary chapter in the formation of black America. In Black Jacks, he shows that sailors were the eyes and ears to worlds beyond the horizon of black communities ashore, and examines how the meaning of race aboard ship changed with time. 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.

Among the more intriguing facts that this fascinating book contains is this statistic: by 1803, nearly 20 percent of seamen's jobs were filled by black men, most of them freemen. Historian Jeffrey Bolster, himself a sailor for a decade, covers the story of black sailors from Africa through mid-1800s America. Working as seamen helped blacks support families and helped facilitate communication among widely dispersed people. There were dangers--free blacks could be kidnapped and sold into slavery, and all black sailors were subject to vicious racism. Yet for all the drawbacks, sailing was a profession black men saw as "an occupation of opportunity."

The is an excellent well-written book about the role African Americans sailors played in our country's history. My major criticism, however, is that the author included only 6 pages on pirates. More should have been written, because few people are aware that many fugitive slaves joined pirate ships. And before our country gained their independence pirate ships were democratic. Pirates elected their captains and voted on what ship they would take and where they would sail. And most pirate ships treated their fugitive slave hands as equals. In other words they ate the same food, performed the same tasks, and received the same amount of plunder as the white hands. Blackbeard had several fugitive slaves sailing on his ships. Read about one fugitive slave joining Blackbeard's crew in The Diary of a Slave Girl, Ruby Jo. Other than not giving more information about BLACK PIRATES, I think this book is very informative and should be on every library shelf. I plan to reread it!