A Six Part Documentary Series


Based on the book

Whaling Captains of Color: America’s First Meritocracy

by Skip Finley


Tom Garber, Executive Producer

 At its height in the 19th century the whaling industry was the fifth largest sector of the United States economy. For people whose lives were built on bondage, oppression, and prejudice, whaling provided uncommon opportunities.

 There was no room for racial discrimination on a whaling ship: the man with the best chance of finding whales -- and getting the boat and crew home safely, was the top man for the job. Ship’s Captain, the pinnacle of success for a colored seafarer, created wealth, respect, and power that was otherwise unavailable to them.


Captain Joseph Belain 1889

The series will focus on the lives of seven Negro and Native American men who captained whaling ships from 1784 to 1920. They are Paul Cuffe, Michael Wainer, Absalom Boston, Ferdinand Lee, Joe Belain, William Shorey, and Manuel Domingues.

 The film will show what cultural and social circumstances set these individuals apart from their contemporaries. What skills were needed to rise to be a captain and ship owner? How where these skills cultivated? How was their wealth and power displayed and retained?

The series’ themes are played out against a tableau of highly dramatic events surrounding the pursuit, capture, and processing of massive whales in the age of sail. The series’ style will be visually quick, informationally concise, and emotionally engaging.