Absalom F. Boston

Nantucket, MA

June 6, 1785

 – June 5, 1855

Absalom F. Boston

Nantucket, MA

June 6, 1785

 – June 5, 1855

A better life for mariners

Absalom Boston, mariner, entrepreneur and civil leader was a respected captain of a whaling ship, the “Industry,” with an entire African American crew in 1822. He was the 37 year old captain of the vessel. At the time, whaling was a very dangerous pursuit. Many ships lost crew or were severely damaged attempting to capture whales Boston returned the “Industry” to her home port of Nantucket, with all of her crew with no injuries or damage with 70 barrels of oil. He learned his craft as a teenager serving on several whaling ships. He worked his way up through the ranks. Some of the voyages would last from six months to a few years. It was hard work. In the mid 1800s whaling was the fifth largest industry in the USA. At the time about 20% of whaling crews were of African descent. Very few of the African American mariners were captains of the vessels. Boston was an exception. By the age of 20, he was able to acquire property on Nantucket. Eventually, he opened an inn and a store on the island.

Boston’s wealth allowed him to use the court system to improve the lives of African Americans. His daughter, Phebe, was not allowed to attend school on Nantucket. Boston sued and won the case. In 1846 he worked to integrate the public schools. The Massachusetts State Legislature supported Boston’s position. Phebe and another African-American student, Eunice Ross, were admitted into the school. This was one hundred years before Brown versus the Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court that desegregated schools in the southern states. He ran for public office although was not elected. He was a founder of the African Baptist Society and helped create the African Meeting House on Nantucket. When he passed away in 1855, Boston was a wealthy man. He owned three houses, a store and a few additional lots of land. He also left a legacy of better lives for mariners and African Americans.

~Gary Jobson

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