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Captain William Shorey

Despite the wishes of his parents for him to obtain a safer occupation, William Shorey left his native Barbados in 1875 at the age of 16 and boarded a ship bound for Boston where he would pursue a career in the lucrative whaling industry.

As the Atlantic whale population dwindled due to overhunting, the industry shifted to the West Coast, as did Shorey who moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where there was a sizable whaling fleet. Over the next 10 years, he mastered the art of navigation and eventually rose to the rank of ship captain, becoming the only Black whaling captain on the West Coast.

Whaling was an incredibly dangerous occupation, claiming the lives of about 10% of sailers. Shorey was well known for his skill and for his ability to bring his crews home safely from dangerous voyages that would last for months, as they searched for whales in places as far flung as the Arctic. He had many harrowing stories from his life at sea. One in particular involved a typhoon off the coast of Japan that battered their ship for over 30 hours. One of his crew members later stated that “nothing but Captain Shorey’s coolness and clever seamanship saved a wreck.”

In 1887, William Shorey married Julia Ann Shelton, the daughter of a prominent African American family from San Francisco. They settled in Oakland and had 5 children. William often brought his family with him on voyages and while at sea, Julia would document her experiences and observations which were published in the San Francisco Elevator.

The Shoreys were very active in the African American community, serving on the boards of various organizations and at one point hosting a dinner with Booker T. Washington to raise funds for the Tuskegee Institute.

In his later life, Captain Shorey met a young Jack London who was enthralled with his stories of the sea and was inspired to take to the sea and tell stories of his own.

William Shorey, like so many others, fell victim to the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919. He was buried at Mountainview cemetery in Oakland, CA.

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