Rhode Island

This Nantucket Whaling Ship Captain Challenged the Island’s Segregated Schools


Captain Absalom Boston (Portrait of Absalom Boston, ca. 1835, unknown artist of the Prior Hamblin School, gift of Sampson D. Pompey, 1906.56.1, Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket, Mass.)

Absalom Boston was famous for many things, but perhaps his most important legacy began on the mainland.

The sailor and whaling captain was born in Nantucket in 1785 to a formerly enslaved father and a Wampanoag mother. He sailed on his first whaling voyage at the age of fifteen and worked his way up the ranks, eventually becoming captain of a whaling ship. He was the first captain of an African-American whaling ship in Nantucket and the first to command an all-black crew.

According to information from the Egan Maritime Institute, whaling was an opportunity for African American men to earn a living at a time when many careers were closed to them. Boston made his fortune from whaling and bought land, opened an inn, and served as trustee of both the Nantucket African Baptist Society and the African Meeting House. In 1845, his daughter Phebe was denied admission to the island’s public high school. He filed suit against the city and was ultimately successful, forcing Nantucket to integrate its public schools a full century before Brown v Board of Education court decision.

Boston was one of 12 people inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport last weekend. The ceremonies included an opening ceremony at the Sailing Museum on Thames Street, the formal induction at the Casino Theater and a reception at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Other sailors in the 2022 introductory class were Edward Adams, a former University of Rhode Island glider outstanding pilot who went on to have a successful career as a professional trainer and racer, and John “Garry” Garrison Hoyt, an Olympic sailor and yacht designer who founded Liberty Yachts on Aquidneck Island.

“These are extraordinary sailors and equally extraordinary people whose contributions to the sport span more than 200 years,” said Gus Carlson, President of the National Sailing Hall of Fame. “Through their achievements they inspire all who have known and know about them and for generations of seafarers to come. With this year’s class, the National Sailing Hall of Fame now has 114 inductions.”

To see the full list of 2022 nominees, visit the National Sailing Hall of Fame website.

The National Sailing Hall of Fame moved to Newport from Annapolis, Maryland in 2019. In addition to the Hall of Fame, the organization operates the Sailing Museum in the historic Armory building on Thames Street. Tourists and residents can visit the museum to learn more about sailing and Newport’s iconic role in the sport.

F4bd8988 56d2 688d Ef44 Bc4ec574aa48

The Class of 2022 was inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame. (Courtesy of Dan Nerney)


The Sailing Museum has officially set sail in the Ocean State

Meet the first-ever all-female youth team to complete the Newport Bermuda Race

Inside the Newport Bermuda Race

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button