Captain William Shorey, also known as “The Black Ahab” was a respected entrepreneur and whaling captain in the 19th Century. He was the first African-American captain of a sea vessel on the west coast. A native of Barbados, he was the son of a Scottish sugar planter and a mother who was both African and West Indian.
Captain Shorey became a seaman to escape from the pressures of racism and depression. In 1880, he sailed aboard the British Vessel, the Emma F. Herriman, where he was taught navigation. He soon became an officer in a few short years. British and Scandinavian ships were the only places in which a black man could be employed to an equal level of their white counterparts.
Captain Shorey earned his nickname “Black Ahab” after keeping his cool and saving his entire crew aboard the Alexander, which was a sinking ship in the Arctic ocean in 1891. He had brought his crew through two typhoons unharmed, hence earning him the title of the “coolest and most clever captain” on the west coast. Crews under Captain Shorey had reputations of being on “happy ships.”
After 1908, Captain Shorey retired, along with the whaling profession. When oil was discovered, regular funds suffered for the seaman and demand for whaling products declined. Many of the seaman had to take lower jobs on steam powered ships as cooks or stewards.