Sea Captains: San Francisco 1800s


William T. Shorey

1859-1919

A ship's captain and important early leader of Oakland's African American community, William T. Shorey was born in 1859 in Barbados, the son of a Scottish sugar planter; his mother was West Indian from African ancestry.

After studying navigation in Boston, he embarked on a three-year voyage aboard a whaling ship where he was promoted to first officer. Like most sea-bound black men at the time, Shorey sailed aboard a British Vessel in 1880, where he would be taught navigation and made an officer in a few short years. British and Scandanavian ships were the only places where a black man could work under equal standards as whites most of the time. 

Captain Shorey spent most of his career aboard ships in the Pacific whaling fleet, much of it in Alaskan waters. During a distinguished life at sea, he earned the coveted "Masters License," which permitted him to pilot ships of any size, anywhere in the world.

San Francisco Bay. 1899.

Topographic Map. San Francisco Bay. 1899.

It wasn't until his work on the west coast aboard the Emma F. Herriman that Shorey began his tenure, which led to a first officer ranking only 10 years later. There he became the first African-American captain of a sea vessel on the west coast. He earned his nickname Black Ahab after keeping his cool and saving his entire crew aboard the Alexander, which was sinking somewhere in the Arctic ice 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. His crews had reputations of being on happy ships.

Captain Shorey settled on the waterfront in West Oakland in the 1880s. Shorey St. in Oakland was named for the Captain. After 1908, Captain Shorey retired, his timing perfect with the demise of the whaling profession. When oil was discovered, the funds suffered for the seamen, and demand for whaling products declined. Many seamen had to take lower jobs on steam-powered ships as cooks or stewards.


Gold Rush Port.

Gold Rush Port

The Maritime Archaeology of San Francisco's WaterfrontMaritime Archaeology. James Delgado.

James P. Delgado

Gold Rush Port The Maritime Archaeology of San Franciscos Waterfront.Described as a "forest of masts," San Francisco's Gold Rush waterfront was a floating economy of ships and wharves, where a dazzling array of global goods was traded and transported. Drawing on excavations in buried ships and collapsed buildings from this period, James P. Delgado re-creates San Francisco's unique maritime landscape, shedding new light on the city's remarkable rise from a small village to a boomtown of thousands in the three short years from 1848 to 1851. Gleaning history from artifacts, such as preserves and liquors in bottles, leather boots and jackets, hulls of ships, even crocks of butter lying alongside discarded guns. Gold Rush Port paints a fascinating picture of how ships and global connections created the port and the city of San Francisco.

The Great Ocean: Pacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold RushPacific Worlds from Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.

David Igler
Great Ocean.From Captain Cook to the Gold Rush.The Pacific of the early eighteenth century was a place of baffling complexity, with 25,000 islands and seemingly endless continental shorelines. But with the voyages of Captain James Cook, global attention turned to the Pacific, and European and American dreams of scientific exploration, trade, and empire grew dramatically. By the time of the California gold rush, the Pacific's many shores were fully integrated into world markets-and world consciousness. The Great Ocean draws on hundreds of documented voyages as a window into the commercial, cultural, and ecological upheavals following Cook's exploits, focusing in particular on the eastern Pacific in the decades between the 1770s and the 1840s. Beginning with the expansion of trade as seen via the travels of William Shaler, captain of the American Brig Lelia Byrd, historian David Igler uncovers a world where voyagers, traders, hunters, and native peoples met one another in episodes often marked by violence and tragedy.


The Authority to Sail.The Authority to Sail: The History of U.S. Maritime Licenses and Seamen's PapersThe Authority to Sail.
Robert Stanley Bates, George Marsh (Editor), John F. Whiteley (Forward) (Batek Marine Publishing, 2011; Nominated in 2012 for a Pulitzer Prize)
This book depicts important aspects of our maritime history as a result of original research done by the author, Commodore Bates, the holder of an unlimited master's license who has enjoyed a distinguished fifty-year career in both the Coast Guard and the American Merchant Marine.

The U.S. Coast Guard issues all Captain Licenses for U.S. Ports.
Note: Other countries have different regulations, i.e. the RYA (Royal Yachting Association), conducts certification for Britain and Ireland. As of 2011, they did not recognize the USCG certification; certification through their courses was required.

Master Unlimited is a licensed mariner in ultimate command of a vessel any gross tons. The captain is responsible for its safe and efficient operation, including cargo operations, navigation, crew management and ensuring that the vessel complies with local and international laws. All persons on board, including officers and crew, other shipboard staff members, passengers, guests and pilots, are under the captain's authority and are his or her ultimate responsibility. The STCW defines the Master as Person having command of the ship.

Merchant Marine License - Sample.

The Sea Chart
The Illustrated History of Nautical Maps and Navigational ChartsThe Sea Chart.
The Sea Chart.The Sea Chart.
John Blake
The sea chart was one of the key tools by which ships of trade, transport and conquest navigated their course across the oceans. Herein is a history and development of the chart and the related nautical map, in both scientific and aesthetic terms, as a means of safe and accurate seaborne navigation. 150 color illustrations including the earliest charts of the Mediterranean made by 13th-century Italian merchant adventurers, as well as 18th-century charts that became strategic naval and commercial requirements and led to Cook's voyages in the Pacific, the search for the Northwest Passage, and races to the Arctic and Antarctic.

Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition Get Your Captain's License. Fifth Edition. Charlie  Wing.
Charlie Wing
Considered the quickest, easiest, and least expensive way to prepare for the U.S. Coast Guard captain's ratings exams required for anyone who takes paying passengers on a boat, and useful for serious boaters who want to save money on insurance. 350 pages of seamanship and navigation tutorials. More than 1,500 questions and answers from the Coast Guard exams. Includes an interactive CD-ROM with all 14,000 questions and answers in the USCG database, so you can take an unlimited number of practice exams

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Maritime Nations, Ships, Sea Captains, Merchants, Merchandise, Ship Passengers and VIPs sailing into San Francisco during the 1800s.

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Sources: As noted on entries and through research centers including National Archives, San Bruno, California; San Francisco Main Library History Collection; Maritime Library, San Francisco, California, various Maritime Museums around the world.

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