Bolster, W(illiam) Jeffrey 1954-
BOLSTER, W(illiam) Jeffrey 1954-
PERSONAL: Born April 23, 1954, in New York, NY; son of William Edward (an advertising executive) and Sally Ann (a politician and public servant; maiden name, McCarthy) Bolster; married Martha Lyman Porteous (a museum director), June 21, 1986; children: Eleanor Adams, Carl Redington. Education: Trinity College, B.A. (history), 1976; Brown University, M.A. (history), 1984; Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D. (history), 1992. Certified Master mariner . Politics: "New Deal Democrat." Religion: "Lapsed Protestant." Hobbies and other interests: Bicycling, sailing, poultry-raising.
CAREER: Seaman, educator, and author. Dirigo Cruises, Clinton CT, seaman, 1977-78; Southampton College, Southamptom, NY, instructor and schoolship captain, 1977-83; Sea Education Association, Woods Hole, MA, instructor and schoolship captain, 1978-85; Northeastern University, instructor and schoolship captain, 1982; Ocean World Institute, Baltimore, MD, historic vessel captain, 1987-90; Living Classroom Foundation, Baltimore, MD, consultant and schoolship relief captain, 1987-90; University of New Hampshire, Durham, assistant professor of history, 1991-97, associate professor of history, 1997—. Consultant for film and television projects, including those for WGBH PBS-TV, Boston, MA, 1990, New England Cable News, Boston, MA, 1992, Northern Lights Productions, Boston, MA, 1993-94, the National Park Service, and Howard University, Washington, DC, 1993-94.
MEMBER: American Historical Association (AHA); Organization of American Historians; Institute of Early American History and Culture; Society of the History of the Early Republic; National Maritime Alliance.
AWARDS, HONORS: Hardin Craig Prize, Munson Institute of the Mystic Seaport Museum, 1978, for best seminar paper; Johns Hopkins University fellow, 1986-90; Paul Cuffe Memorial fellow, Mystic Seaport Museum, 1989; Afro-American Communities Project fellow, Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History, 1990-91; Louis Pelzer Memorial Award for best paper submitted to the Journal of American History by a graduate student; Binkley-Stephenson Award, Organization of American Historians, 1991, for best scholarly article in the Journal of American History in 1990; National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) fellow for university teachers, 1993-94; named Hortense Cavis Shepard professor, University of New Hampshire, 1995-98; "Notable Book" award, New York Times Book Review, 1997; John Lyman Award for maritime history, 1997; Weskey-Logan book prize (co-winner), AHA, 1998; Association of American Publishers award for History, 1998; James H. Hayes and Claire Short Hayes Chair in the Humanities, University of New Hampshire; Fulbright Distinguished Chair in American Studies, University of Southern Denmark, 2002-2003.
Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1997.
(With H. Anderson) Soldiers, Sailors, Slaves and Ships: The Civil War Photography of Henry P. Moore, New Hampshire Historical Society (Concord, NH), 1999.
(Editor and author of introduction) Cross-Grained and Wiley Waters: A Guide to the Puscataqua Maritime Region, Peter E. Randall (Portsmouth, NH), 2002.
Also author of reviews in periodicals including William and Mary Quarterly, Journal of American History, American Neptune, and New England Quarterly. Has contributed to anthologies such as Through a Glass Darkly: Reflections on Self in Early America, edited by Ronald Hoffman, Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture (Williamsburg, VA), 1997.
SIDELIGHTS: In his 1997 publication Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail, W. Jeffrey Bolster drew upon a decade of research to relate a previously ignored segment of U.S. nautical history: that of the African American seaman. Bolster, who holds a doctorate in history, has ten years of professional experience as a seaman. He served variously as a ship's officer, teacher, and captain on numerous sailing schoolships. Yet it was during his graduate studies that the idea for Black Jacks presented itself. While researching a paper, the author came across customs house records from the 1800s that mentioned African-American sailors, a group not represented in any existing maritime history.
Because of his experience as a seaman, Bolster knew that ship captains were required by law to provide a list of all crew members to the customhouse before leaving port. To discover the truth about African American seamen, he looked through lists totaling more than fifty thousand names from six major U.S. ports during the 1800s. Sailors were identified by name, age, birthplace, and place of residence, including a physical description that included height, hair type, and complexion. Based on his analysis of these records, Bolster discovered that in the early nineteenth century, when seafaring was America's second-most common occupation, approximately twenty percent of seamen were black. He also discovered stories about these men, which he relates in Black Jacks.
One of the most important aspects of Bolster's first book is his scrutiny of different lifestyles of nineteenth-century African Americans living on land and those serving as seamen. Bolster suggests that African American seamen had a certain measure of freedom not offered to most African Americans of their time. While the seaman did experience discrimination, and at times were genuinely fearful of being sold into slavery, they also formed friendships with the white seamen. The African American seamen also had other advantages over those living on land: they received revenue, discovered advantageous skills beyond the menial field and household tasks of slaves, and experienced worldwide cultures. In turn, these men were then able to pass their income and knowledge on to their poor, repressed families, who had to perform grueling—and often degrading—tasks to earn a living in their absence. The role of the African American seaman was not equivalent to that of the white seaman, however. Bolster reveals that few African American seamen ever achieved rank on their vessels. In fact, they were often delegated the most disagreeable tasks—many not related to maritime service—and were punished for misdeeds much more severely than their white counterparts.
In an article for the New York Times, Carla Davidson judged that while Bolster's book is rightly classified as a scholarly work, it "crackles with enough drama for many novels or plays." Captivated by similar aspects of Black Jacks, Anne Kugler called the book "a vibrant and engaging work of rediscovery" in a review for the Historian.
Commenting on Black Jacks's wide range of accessibility and value, Negro History Bulletin contributor Regina T. Akers related that "Bolster has preserved an important chapter in African American, maritime, and United States history," further remarking that "Black Jacks is must reading not only for African American, early American, and maritime history specialists, but also for those interested in the age of sail and unique culture." Expanding on the book's possible range of readers, Peter Thompson wrote in a review for the English Historical Journal that "specialist and general readers will surely share Bolster's sense of the important of his subject and warm to his lively and evocative presentation." Bolster told CA: "The fact that Black Jacks has gotten favorable reviews, and that people continue to call or write every week to express their thanks, is very gratifying. It is a story that many people were hungry for."
Bolster also edited Soldiers, Sailors, Slaves, and Ships: The Civil War Photographs of Henry P. Moore with Hilary Anderson, curator of the New Hampshire Historical Society. The book was published in conjunction with an exhibit of the photographer's work at the Museum of New Hampshire History. Bolster and Anderson each contributed an essay to the collection of photographs, which depict Civil War soldiers of the Third New Hampshire Volunteer Regiment performing various casual activities, such as writing letters and smoking. Moore also photographed New Hampshire slaves, which were included with these forty-eight prints. Bolster's next editorial project was titled Cross-Grained and Wily Waters: A Guide to the Piscataqua Maritime Region. This book highlights the history of this New England region and the stresses it has seen since its formation, urging naturalists, fishermen, community members, and tourists to help preserve the estuary.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Directory of American Scholars, 10th edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.
American Historical Review, June, 1998, Edward L. Cox, review of Black Jacks, pp. 963-964.
Bookwatch, April, 2002, review of Black Jacks, p. 5.
Book World, August 23, 1998, review of Black Jacks, p. 12.
English Historical Review, February, 1999, Peter Thompson, review of Black Jacks, p. 218.
Historian, summer, 2000, Anne Kugler, review of Black Jacks, p. 863.
History: Review of New Books, winter, 1998, Robert Erwin Johnson, review of Black Jacks, p. 72.
Identities, January, 2000, Ray A. Kea, review of Black Jacks, pp. 607-611.
Journal of American History, March, 1998, B.R. Burg, review of Black Jacks, p. 1500.
Journal of Maritime Law and Commerce, July, 1999, review of Black Jacks, pp. 524-525.
Journal of Social History, summer, 1999, review of Black Jacks, p. 967.
Journal of the Early Republic, spring, 1999, Frederick M. Binder, review of Black Jacks, pp. 139-142.
Negro History Bulletin, April-June, 1998, Regina T. Akers, review of Black Jacks, p. 32.
New York Times, July 20, 1997.
New York Times Book Review, October 25, 1998, review of Black Jacks, p. 48; December 6, 1998, review of Black Jacks, p. 96.
Sea History, spring, 1998, review of Black Jacks, p. 59.
Washington Post, July 24, 1997, pp. B1, B4. William and Mary Quarterly, January, 1998, review of Black Jacks, p. 156.