Excerpt from contribution to BlackPast.org by Guy M. Washington
William Thomas Shorey (July 13, 1859–April 15, 1919) was captain of a whaling ship from the 1880s through the 1900s, the west coast’s only black captain at that time. He was known to his whaling crews as the ‘Black Ahab’.
Born in Barbados in 1859, Shorey went to sea as a teenager, and made his first whaling voyage in 1876. Whaling brought him to California, where in 1884 he married Julia Ann Shelton (Shorey) (June 10, 1865–March 12, 1944), the daughter of a leading African-American family in San Francisco. He was a skilled captain and navigator, earning his master’s license which allowed him to command any size vessel anywhere in the world.
Between the threat of storms, crew unrest during the months-long voyages, and the whales themselves (who were understandably unhappy about being hunted), whaling was a dangerous business. During one 1904 voyage, whales smashed two boats to pieces, amazingly with no loss of life. 4 Another voyage in 1905 returned “3000 pounds of bone and 230 barrels of oil. This means profit for the owners, fair pay for the skipper and some of the officers and $1 for the green hands.” Shorey’s ship, the John and Winthrop survived two serious storms during the 11-month trip. One storm nearly drove the ship ashore, and the other was feared to have sunk the schooner Gotama.