Black History

African Nantucketers

Excerpt from The Other Islanders by Frances Karttunen

If the story of Nantucket’s ancient proprietors, the Wampanoags, is one of dispossession, the story of the African Nantucketers is one of acquisition. Before the English settlers arrived, the sachems and their people had been in full occupation of the island, but in the course of a century they lost almost all their land and then almost all of them lost their lives.

The Africans brought to the island during that century so fatal to the Wampanoags had lost everything but their lives upon being taken into slavery. The survivors of the Atlantic crossing started from nothing. Arriving on Nantucket, they had no property, no personal freedom, not even their own names. The men were called by classical and biblical names: Cato, Pompey, Seneca, Nero, Moses, Jonas, Ishmael, and—ironically—Caesar and Prince. Women were given such servants’ names as Hagar, Patience, Phebe, Phyllis, Rose, and Maria.

As the ancient proprietors’ fortunes declined, the Africans on Nantucket acquired freedom, surnames, and families. Ultimately they gained admission to all the public schools. By then they had become entrepreneurs as well as household help, laborers, and mariners, and in the process they had put together a neighborhood of their own. Buying and consolidating land, they built dwelling houses, stores, a school, churches, boarding houses, workshops, barber shops, and a dance hall.

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These pages contain resources currently digitized from the NHA Archival Collections. More will be made available as digitization work progresses. If you would like to contribute additional stories or information, please contact us at


A collection of articles and writings on the history of African Americans on Nantucket.More Read more from Articles

Historic Nantucket

Selected articles highlighting episodes in Black history from the NHA publication, Historic Nantucket.More Read more from Historic Nantucket

Oral Histories

A collection of first-person recordings by community members about Black lives on Nantucket from the NHA Oral History Collection.More Read more from Oral Histories


Recordings and lectures discussing Nantucket's Black history. More Read more from Videos

Nancy S. Folger, Grave Marker, 1859, photographer Georgen Charnes

Cemetery Database

List of markers in the Colored Cemetery, traditionally used for the burial of people of color.More Read more from Cemetery Database

The Nantucket Historical Association preserves and interprets the history of Nantucket through its programs, collections, and properties, in order to promote the island’s significance and foster an appreciation of it among all audiences.

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