When most people think about early black history in Oakland, they think of the Pullman Porters. Less well known is William T. Shorey, who was captain of a whaling ship in the 1880s, the only black captain operating on the west coast at that time. He was known to his whaling crews as the 'Black Ahab'.
William was born in Barbados in 1859, went to sea as a teenager, and made his first whaling voyage in 1876. Whaling brought him to California, and he married Julia Ann Shelton, the daughter of a leading African American family in San Francisco. He was a skilled captain and navigator, earning his masters license which allowed him to command any size vessel anywhere in the world. He and Julia Ann had 5 children, living in West Oakland at 1782 8th Street. William retired from the sea in 1908, as the whaling industry was winding down as petroleum was discovered.
Active in politics before and after his retirement, William hosted a dinner in 1903 honor of Booker T. Washington, who spoke to raise funds for his school at Tuskegee. William died in 1919, one of many victims of the Spanish flu pandemic. Some of the influenza victims from Oakland are buried in plot 53 in Mountain View Cemetery, but William is in plot 14B. Julia Ann (-1944) and their daughter Zenobia Pearl (-1909) were also buried there. Their grave is prominently marked on the maps the cemetery provides. Nearby is a marker for William T. Shorey, Jr. (1902-1969), presumably their son.
Following his death, Shorey Street in West Oakland was named after him. He was the first black resident in Oakland to be honored by the city fathers.
more on Captain William T. Shorey:
Historical photo from the Oakland History Room at the Oakland Public Library.