The remarkable adventures of men of color, while sailing the Arctic, Atlantic, Indian, Pacific and Southern (Antarctica) oceans are not mentioned on their Seaman Protection Certificates. Their stories are found buried in the international newspapers, crew lists, and logbooks that have survived in maritime museums, historical societies, libraries, and state archives.
The Corrector, a Sag Harbor (NY) newspaper on October 2, 1886 reprinted an article that originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle on September 11, stating no signs of the bark Amethyst or her crew had been found from Port Clarence (Alaska), on the split separating the bay from the Behring strait to Point Barrow. Ferdinand Lee, of the Shinnecock Reservation (NY), who once received the rank of Captain was among the lost Amethyst crew!
By 1831, James Lee (1791-MD), a man of color, and his wife Roxanna Bunn, a Shinnecock had five (5) sons that became seaman, boatsteerers, a captain, 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th mates on whaling ships from 1847 to 1885.
The Lee sons were Milton (1832-1869), Ferdinand (1833-1885), Notley (1840), James Robert (1844-1876), and William Lloyd Garrison (1846-1885). Research papers like, Nancy Shoemaker’s The Life of the Lee Family, and Nineteenth Century Shinnecock Whaling, is just one of the sources giving insight into the lives of the five (5) Lee brothers.
The oldest Milton went to sea at the age of 17, on the vessel Panama. In 1852, he sailed as a boatsteerer, and kept the official logbook. Milton probably attended the Shinnecock Reservation School believed to have been built in the 1830s. Just after three voyages, the 24-year old, Milton became 1st mate on the bark Amazon. It seems, he developed a “mysterious” ailment around 1865 ending his career as 2nd mate. Four years later, he died by drowning near the Reservation after 20-years of hunting the whale.
Notley, first sailed from Greenport (NY) on the vessel Philip in 1854 at the age of 14. In 1862, he sailed with his 16-year old brother William Lloyd Garrison (known as Garrison) on the bark Pioneer. Eight years later, Garrison and Notley were together again on the whaler Abraham Barker, but when the ship reached Tonga Island, Notley deserted, and his Captain did not want him back! He never returned to the reservation!
After Notley deserted, Garrison stayed onboard as 4th mate. Later, he became 1st mate on a New Bedford whaler.
James Robert (known as Robert) went to sea for 6-years, but died salvaging the wreck of the Circassian off Southampton. The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, January 3, 1877 reported, “Among the wrecking crew were ten (10) Shinnecock Indians… all experienced seamen…they never had any other occupation than as seaman, and some of them had the experience of whalemen”.
Robert’s brother Ferdinand appears on the crew list for the ship Young Phenix. Three years later, he appears again on the Young Phenix crew list as 2nd mate. By 1864, he sailed on the ship Roman, however he was discharged. As a 32 years old, he sailed on the ship Eliza Adams, and seven-years later, the experienced Ferdinand made captain!
Ferdinand became master of the 3-masted bark Callao on July 15, 1871 according to the New Bedford Museum Whaling Crew List Database.
He was master of a diverse group of seaman from Massachusetts, New York, California, Azores, Germany, Cape Verde, Flores, Fayal, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and Gibraltar. Officers, and seamen were arrested, crew deserted, others discharged, as well as one death. The crew split into kin-based groups not working as a team!
Incidents involving the bark Callao are found in the historical newspapers (National Library of Australia), as she moved between the whaling grounds, Australia, and New Zealand.
The Herald, Western Australia, May 18, 1872 announcing the arrival of the bark on April 18th with 900 barrels of oil at King George’s Sound. On May 1st, she departed back to the whaling grounds!
Leaving the whaling grounds, the Callao’s arrival was advertised again in the Mercury, October 16th. The article continued, the Callao has taken 250 barrels sperm, and 1,400 lbs. whale bone. “The Callao will refit here,” stated Captain Lee.
On October 24, the Mercury reported, Captain Lee received a letter stating the bark Fanny Nicholson had taken another whale yielding 10-tons of sperm at St. George’s Sound, “making her take up to 40-tons.” Seven days later, the newspaper informed its readers, the Callao “cleared out” for the whaling grounds.
After about 1-year, The Mercury, November 10, 1873 reported, the Callao had arrived back in Hobart. The 1st mate was William Wood, who was discharged at Bay of Island, New Zealand. William died at sea, while on the bark Abram in 1874.
Captain Lee’s 2nd mate was originally Charles Manley, he would be promoted to 1st mate. The 3rd mate was Andrew Kellis of Shinnecock, who would be promoted to 2nd mate.
The first voyage for Andrew was at 14 years old in 1860. Between 1863 and 1871, Andrew made two (2) more voyages before joining the Callao.
The Mercury, November 14 reported, the Callao had her copper repaired, while at anchor in the stream. Eight-days later, the Tasmanian Tribute reported an assault by Andrew Kellis, the new 2nd mate. He was charged with assaulting Charles Manley. Manley testified, the accused was somewhat insubordinate on board the vessel. On one occasion, Kellis struck him on the back of the head. The accused pleaded guilty! Kellis was sentenced to 4-weeks imprisonment, “with the stipulation that he should be handed over to the captain of the Callao, should the vessel sail before that time”. Numerous desertions, and arrests caused the bark to become stranded part of December without a satisfactory crew!
The Tasmanian Tribune, December 1 reported, William Latch was charged with having absented himself from that vessel, and was committed to the House of Correction for two weeks. The next day, the newspaper mentioned the Callao, “hauled out into the stream yesterday, and will shortly resume her cruise”.
On December 5, readers were informed three (3) seaman were charged with being absent, and would remain until tomorrow in jail. But Saturday, the paper announced the seaman were sentenced to 3-weeks imprisonment.
December 8th, the Tasmanian Tribune stated, the Callao sailed, and anchored at Brown’s River, now lying off Kelly’s Point waiting for her crew. But, her crew was still in the newspapers, Captain Lee brought charges against two (2) more seaman with being absent from service without leave. The Magistrate sentenced them to 2-weeks impressment, and ordered they be returned to the Callao, if it should set sail. Finally, she sailed on a short cruise on December 11th.
The desertions continued, December 12, the Police Court reprimanded another Callao seaman for being absent without leave giving him a week in jail. At 6:00 pm, the Callao was seen standing eastward, by the captain of the schooner Guiding Star.
The Callao experienced strong westerly winds by the 15th, 150 miles southeast of South Cape with a strong gale blowing from the south. The mainland was sighted on the 16th, and the bark passed Truman’s Head. Once more, the Callao arrived back in the Channel at Iron Pot Light, and anchored off Passage Point.
The Tasmanian Tribune, December 18 mentioned, “Captain Lee has come to town to secure a boatsteerer and pulling hands.” The next day, another seaman was charged with being absent without leave, and discharged, as he had no written agreement.
The captain hired a new 1st mate John Morrison, who had captained a New Bedford vessel. Some of the deserters were caught, as well as other men were hired. On Christmas Day, the Mercury stated, the Callao sailed yesterday morning in renewal of her cruise.
At Tonga Island, Captain Lee reunited and hired his brother Notley as 4th mate, but when the Callao left, Notley Lee, and John Morrison stayed behind.
The Age, (Melbourne) newspaper January 3, 1874 mentioned, “Very heavy weather was experienced out south, and on January 2nd, the Callao left for Middle Ground; cruised from Howe’s Island to Norfolk Island, and saw whales once.
On February 1st, when 25 miles SE of Norfolk Island, “struck two large whales, and succeeded in getting one to the ship, but lost the other by its sinking”. Captain Lee said, the two whales were the only chance the crew had since leaving Hobart Town!
Alfred Smith fell breaking his thigh, and wrist, as well as receiving other injuries. “Those on board did all they could do to alleviate his sufferings, and the ship was worked to Norfolk Island, which was reached in 16 hours.” Smith was treated, and discharged from the Callao on the Island.
Seven months passed, the Mercury, July 11 mentioned a letter had been received from Captain Lee, who shaped his course for the south of New Zealand. On December 28th, Charles Smith, who joined the crew at Hobart Town died, and was buried at sea.
The Callao arrived at the Bay of Islands, New Zealand with 650 barrels of whale oil, 50 barrels sperm oil, and 3,000 lbs. bone, the Mercury reported on January 1, 1875. Andrew Kellis was also discharged upon arrival.
Kellis made his way back to Long Island, and continued to go to sea. In 1876, Kellis appears on the crew list for the ship Milton, as a boatsteerer. Problems with the crew continued!
The Mercury, March 3 reported, John Pascho was charged with having been absent without leave. The defendant pleaded guilty, and was committed to the House of Corrections for 14-days of hard labor. The next day, the Callao cleared customs again for a whaling voyage. Five days later, another seaman was charged with disturbing the peace.
The voyage continued, Captain Lee appointed two (2) more 1st mates before the bark Callao rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived back in New Bedford (MA) in September 1875.
After his voyage as captain, Ferdinand Lee is believed to have left whaling for about 10-year. The South Side Signal (Babylon NY) on April 22, 1882 reported, at the last annual meeting of the Shinnecock Indians, Ferdinand Lee, Cornelius Eleazer, and Joshua Kellis were elected trustees. When Ferdinand returned to hunting the whale, he did not sail as a captain on the lost whaling ship Amethyst, but as 2nd mate.