Did You Know?
In the 1800’s Black men, both free and enslaved, comprised 22% of those who worked on the water, the primary way to move goods at that time. They traveled from northern to southern ports, throughout the Caribbean, to Europe, Australasia and Japan and returned to their communities with stories of life outside the slaveocracy of the U.S.
The grave marker for Edmund Moody, a Black sailor who died in Mangonui, North Island, New Zealand, 1864
Sailors wrote the first six autobiographies of Black Americans. Active agents on the Underground Railroad, their freedom messages were so stirring that after the rebellion led by sailor, Denmark Vesey, South Carolina enacted the 1822 Quarantine Laws/Negro Seaman Acts, jailing these men when they came to port.
SHALLOW BROWN is a musical docudrama set in Virginia, 1829. Written by Vienna Carroll and directed by Keith Johnston.
Thessalonia, an enslaved tailor, meets free sailor Levi when he asks her to unpick the seams of his coat for the radical abolition papers sewed inside. (Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America, Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts).
From that moment, her life and love are inextricably entwined with anti-slavery rebels including her husband, father and brothers who all turn out to be respected organizers in the Nat Turner rebellion of 1831..
Sea shanties, the sailors’ work songs, are woven into SHALLOW BROWN and are the inspiration for the show as they reveal this long-buried history in their lyrics. We invite audience members to sing along in the traditional African call and response style.
The organizational name and details of activities at the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Educational Improvement of Coloured People are a conglomerate of actual upliftment activities that occurred in the 1800s.
Elizabeth Keckley, a Black woman, was Mrs Lincoln’s dressmaker and wrote the book Behind the Scenes: Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House (1868).
The Free Coloured Ladies Society is modelled on support organizations of that type for Black Soldiers and Sailors in the 1800’s.
The main characters in this play are fictional but based in actual history. Enslaved skilled Black folks were loaned out. Enslaved Black men did pilot and work on ships between plantations and ports and all over the world. Black sailors were able to fight for and/or buy their freedom. There was intermarrying between free Blacks and enslaved Blacks.
David Walker’s Appeal To the Colored Citizens was written in 1829 and is a fiery radical abolitionist book. Mr Walker himself was a Black Boston tailor with his own printing press. He printed and sewed the pages of his book into sailors’ uniforms, who smuggled it into the South. There was incredible distribution of the book along the East coast inside 6 months.
There were boarding houses for Black sailors in port towns.
Denmark Vesey was a minister and former sailor who organized a rebellion in Charleston in 1822. In response, South Carolina was the first state to enact Quarantine Laws or Negro Seaman’s Acts, where Black sailors had to pay to wait in jail while their ships were in Southern ports.
Some Black men learned to sail on slaver ships that brought them from Africa to the US.
The Gambia River in Africa was active in the slave trade.
The overseer scene is a mash of stories from John Hope Franklin and Loren Schweninger’s Runaway Slave: Rebel on the Plantation
The Hills was a free Black village in Westchester NY. Some Quakers did manumit and give land to Black folk to get them started there.
Black pirates did exist. Blackbeard is reported to have had Black and Brown pirates.
There were Black whalers. Herman Melville notes them in Moby Dick. Martha Putney does a careful study of them in her book. (pls see bibliography). A new book by Skip Finley, “Whaling Captains of Color,” gives even more detail.
The first 6 books written by African Americans before 1800 were by Black sailors – Equiano and Britton Hammond were two of these.
The Haitian Declaration of Independence was indeed found in isolated out of the way plantations in the Southern US.
Dolly Madison served ice cream at her husband’s inaugural ball in 1813.
The cruelty of slavery is well documented.
The Nat Turner rebellion started on August 21, 1831 in which about 60 whites were killed. In retaliation there was wholesale slaughter of Black men, women and children in its aftermath including hanging their heads from poles. Nat Turner was captured 2 month later and hanged, drawn and quartered.
Harriet Tubman and many other people returned to the South to help free enslaved loved ones from captivity.