Black Mariners in Whaling Industry

Black Mariners (Photo Credit: National Park Service)

Did you know that blacks served among crews on whaling ships before the American Revolution? Did you know that Crispus Attucks spent 20 years as a whaler before he was the first casualty at the Boston Massacre on March 5, 1770? Crispus was a fugitive slave from Framingham, Massachusetts who was on leave from the Nantucket vessel, Lorenzo J. Green, before losing his life as the first patriot at the Boston Massacre.

Before the turn of the century, the maritime industry provided the most significant opportunities for employment more than any other industry in America as blacks were paid equally if skilled. Many blacks served at the dangerous job as harpooners but few as mates (officers) and even more rare as a Captain. Blacks made up one fourth to one third of the whaling crews. Racism was not absent, but blacks made a decent wage and received a certain amount of respect as a whaler. After the Civil War, coal and petroleum began to displace whale oil and more and more black whalers would lose these jobs.


Author: Sandra

I am the Founder/President of the Yocum African-American History Association ( I'm a wife, mother, teacher, and visual artist (

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