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

Absalom Boston, the first African American whaling ship captain in Nantucket, was one of twelve individuals inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport over the weekend.
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Captain Absalom Boston (Portrait of Absalom Boston, ca. 1835, unknown Prior-Hamblin School artist, gift of Sampson D. Pompey, 1906.56.1, Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket, Mass.)

Captain Absalom Boston was famous for many things, but perhaps his most important legacy began on dry land.

The sailor and whaling ship 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 a whaling ship captain. He was the first African American whaling ship captain in Nantucket, and the first to captain an all-Black crew.

At the time, whaling offered an opportunity for African American men to make a living when many professions were closed to them, according to information compiled by the Egan Maritime Institute. Boston earned his fortune in whaling and went on to purchase land, open an inn and serve as a trustee of both the Nantucket African Baptist Society and the African Meeting House. In 1845, his daughter, Phebe, was denied admittance to the island’s public high school. He filed suit against the town and was ultimately successful, forcing Nantucket to integrate its public schools a full century before the Brown v. Board of Education court ruling.

Boston was one of twelve individuals inducted into the National Sailing Hall of Fame in Newport this past weekend. The ceremonies included an opening event at the Sailing Museum on Thames Street, the formal induction at the Casino Theatre and a reception at the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Other sailors in the 2022 induction class included Edward Adams, a former University of Rhode Island sailing standout who went on to have a successful career as a professional coach and racer, and John “Garry” Garrison Hoyt, an Olympic sailor and yacht designer who founded Freedom Yachts on Aquidneck Island.

“These are exceptional sailors and equally exceptional people whose contributions to the sport span more than 200 years,” says Gus Carlson, president of the National Sailing Hall of Fame. “Through their accomplishments, they provide inspiration to all who have known them and know about them and to generations of sailors to come. With this year’s class, the National Sailing Hall of Fame is now 114 inductees strong.”

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

The National Sailing Hall of Fame relocated to Newport from Annapolis, Maryland, in 2019. In addition to the Hall of Fame, the organization operates the Sailing Museum out of 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.

 

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

 

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