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Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail Reprint Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 16 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674076273
ISBN-10: 0674076273
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Licensed master mariner Bolster (history, Univ. of New Hampshire) writes a descriptively rich, engaging narrative of African American seafarers from the 1740s to the 1860s. He recounts how tens of thousands of African American sailors formed an important sector of the maritime labor force, shaped mariner culture and the identity of free black communities, and linked the Atlantic world of the black diaspora. Both free blacks and slaves found opportunity, dignity, and freedom despite harsh working conditions. They were skippers and captains as well as ordinary and able seamen, pilots, and cooks on merchant ships, warships, whalers, and other coastal and deep-sea vessels. Bolster devotes attention to the construction of race in the interactions among black and white sailors on ship, in port, and in the War of 1812 POW camp of Dartmoor (England) Prison. This excellent study is highly recommended for public and academic libraries.?Charles L. Lumpkins, Bloomsburg Univ. Lib., Pa.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press; Reprint edition (September 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674076273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674076273
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.9 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #336,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

A historian of seafaring and society, I have spent much of my life messing about in boats or working on commercial vessels (including big schooners). Boats and books have been the cardinal points of my life's compass. My best-selling book to date, BLACK JACKS: AFRICAN AMERICAN SEAMEN IN THE AGE OF SAIL, reconstructed the experiences of black mariners throughout the Atlantic world during the age of slavery. My most recent book, THE MORTAL SEA: FISHING THE ATLANTIC IN THE AGE OF SAIL, is an environmental history of the North Atlantic prior to the introduction of mechanized fishing. It runs essentially from the Viking age to about World War One, and provides the back-story to the crisis in the living ocean that we now confront. I am equally at home with a deck under my feet or with the treasures of a research library spread before me. I enjoy public speaking and am available for talks on my books and related subjects. Thanks for your interest -- and keep reading!

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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!
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Format: Paperback
W. Jeffrey Bolster's Black Jacks: African American Seaman in the Age of Sail, is a fascinating history skillfully told. I did not know that, in the early nineteenth century, black men comprised up to twenty percent of crew of the merchant marine sailing from some northern ports. I likewise did not know that the pre-civil war laws of South Carolina and other southern states, requiring free black sailors to be imprisoned at their own expenses while in southern ports, which led to the decimation of the black merchant marine. Bolster handles both the larger historical questions and the individual sailors' stories with great skill. He has compiled many original sources, including diaries of the sailors, to flesh out the lives of individual black men earning a living and mastering a trade. He also tells how the individuals, and often their officers (almost exclusively, although not entirely, white) dealt with the prejudice of the time, particularly the rising paranoia in the south.
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Format: Paperback
This is a very important book and should launch more studies of this very important subject. This book contains much to recommend it; it is very informative and is very well written as well. The only complaint I have is that it falls prey to the (pervasive) Eurocentrism that pervades the disciplines of Maritime History and Archaeology (although the book does not contain any archaeology). The weakest chapter in the book is the chapter on the "African Roots of Black Seafaring" in which the author writes on page 47: "Africans' maritime technology unquestionably was less sophisticated than that of the Europeans."
This unabashed Eurocentrism is unfortunate. The obvious question raised is this: By which standard is technology judged? Bolster might wish to consult some of the "postcolonial" literaure such as James Blaut's "The Colonizer's Model of the World" which thoroughly debunks the notion (much repeated and unquestioningly accepted) of European seafaring superiority. Jim Loewen's "Lies My Teacher Told Me" also debunks this thinking.
The reasons behind Europe's "conquest" of the world are multifaceted. "Technological superiority" was only a small (and in my opinion not even the most important) component.
Still, "Black Jacks" is very good and a hearty fireside read.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a must-read, as it covers so thoroughly and successfully a little-known side to slavery: that of maritime life. Bolster delves into the mysterious industry of seafaring from a myriad of perspectives: white society, black society, racial hierarchies/oppression, influence of African religions/folklore, how maritime society affects communities on land, anti-black-sailor legislation, etc. He is careful to include multiple perspectives on a given issue, never fully arguing for one side. Though the issues surrounding race and the sea are complex, Bolster handles them skillfully. I was not at all interested in maritime culture before reading this book, but found myself fascinated and never tired of the comprehensive picture Bolster provides. Though the book is scholarly, it is easily accessible for anyone looking to learn about a side of slavery they were never taught in school.
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Format: Paperback
Anyone interested in the history of sailing, prisons, religious mysticism, African-Americans, the early United States, and occupational hazards would be well-advised to read this clear, concise, absorbing book. Bolster obviously did his research, and his narrative pulls the reader into the story of the under-studied community of black sailors "in the age of sail". Highly recommend for scholarly or other mind-broadening pursuits.
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Format: Paperback
Black Jacks is a fascinating read about a little-known aspect of American history. To his credit -- and to the reader's benefit -- Bolster has written about history in a way that makes it not only accessible, but also allows the information about our past as a nation to resonate and inform our present.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Initially, I found this book to be a difficult read because of the author's writing style, but after getting accustomed to it found the content to be very interesting. The book takes a critical look at African American men and their place in the sailing world which is a subject that I have yet to come across in any literature that I have been able to read on slavery. Black Jacks expands the reader's (most likely) single story mindset of the lives of black men during the slavery period and examines the other occupations and possibilites for life there were outside of the plantation.
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