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Black Sailors in the Atlantic World

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Ruth McClelland-Nugent

on 26 June 2017

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Transcript of Black Sailors in the Atlantic World

Black Sailors in the Atlantic World: Visual Sources
As this unit's readings attest, the crews of the Atlantic world in the Age of Sail were made up of a diverse group of working men. While increasing segregation in the later 19th century, particularly in the United States, began to limit opportunities for black men, for many going to sea offered a better chance for employment than staying at home.

This brief Prezi will give you a few images of these men as found in the visual sources.
Olaudah Equiano
One of the best known black men of the 18th century was Olaudah Equiano, known under his christened name as Gustavas Vassa. In 1789 he published his autobiography, detailing his life in slavery, how he purchased his own freedom, and his life afterwards. He worked as a sailor for any years, including sailing on an expedition to the Arctic and to the Mosquito Coast. In the 1780s, he settled in London, where he learned to play a violin, joined a debating society, and became deeply involved in campaigning against the slave trade. He traveled on lecture tours around England, Ireland, and Scotland to promote his book and the cause of abolition
Black Sailors as Pensioners
The British navy provided a home at Greenwich for sailors who were unable to work due to old age or service-related infirmity. Beginning in 1804, the Navy began administering its former sailors a pensio pension. Greenwich functioned both as a hospital and retirement home. We have visual records attesting that black men were among thse pensioners.
This sketch offers a rare look at a black sailor at Greenwich.
Image by goodtextures: http://fav.me/d2he3r8
"The United Service," an 1845 painting by Andrew Mortion, shows a group of army and Navy pensioners in the art gallery admiring painting of Trafalgar. The black man pictured is is the veteran black sailor John Deman (c.1774-1847), who served with Nelson in the West Indies.
Unfortunately, relatively few visual sources give us names; more often they are of anonymous black men, such as this man in an early 19th c naval uniform.
In some cases, photographic images document black sailors--but only their service has passed. William Hall of Nova Scotia was the first black person to be awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest honor in the British Empire, for his service in India in 1857; this picture was taken around 1890-1900. From Dictionary of Canadian Biography: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/hall_william_1829_1904_13E.html

"When the Indian Mutiny broke out in May 1857, the Shannon was sent to Calcutta. Naval reinforcements were urgently required to assist the British army, and Hall was one of the seamen and marines from the Shannon who were formed into a naval brigade and sent as part of the force marching to the relief of Lucknow, then besieged by mutineers. On 16 Nov. 1857 the expedition arrived before the town. Two 24-pounder guns crewed by the Shannon’s men were set the task of breaching the walls of a mosque which was a strong point of the defence. Within a short time the six men of one gun crew had become casualties, and of the second only Hall and Lieutenant Thomas James Young were standing. The two worked the gun in a storm of bullets, firing until a breach had been made and British troops had passed over the walls. Their gallantry contributed materially to the lifting of the siege, and they were successfully nominated for the Victoria Cross. Hall was presented with the award on 28 Oct. 1859, the first black, the first Nova Scotian, and the first Canadian sailor to receive the decoration. By that time he had become captain of the foretop."

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