Nantucket’s history isn’t monochromatic, but many of us remain unaware of the island’s African American heritage. This summer is your chance to venture into the rich stories of the many Black Americans who have lived and left their marks here. Thursdays in July and August, island historians will give free lectures at noon in the historic African Meeting House, 29 York St.
On Thursday, July 19, Francis W. Pease will give a talk about Nantucket’s historic Union Lodge, which was chartered in 1771. One of the Lodge members, Brother Wilson Rawson, was instrumental in the development of the African School, which met in the African Meeting House.
On Thursday, July 26, Barbara White and Frances Karttunen will talk about unsung Nantucket heroine Annie Nahar, who went to New Orleans and Texas to teach children who were newly freed from slavery. Annie Nahar lived with her family on York Street, the same street where the African Meeting House stands today. She was the only Nantucket High School graduate of color to answer the call to teach children in the South after the Civil War.
On Thursday, August 2, educator Joan Wilson-Godeau will present “Sketches of the Life and Times of People of Color In Codfish Park.” Codfish Park has been the home of a vibrant community of color below the bank in Sconset; and members of the Wilson family have been homeowners and core members of that community for decades. Originally, Clarence and Florence Wilson moved to the USA from Bermuda. In the 1930s Clarence began seasonal work in Sconset, and in 1941 his family was
finally able to join him for the summer months. They became property owners in Codfish Park and part of the community that flourished there.
On Thursday, August 9, Barbara White, author of the definitive book on the integration of the Nantucket Public Schools in the mid-1800s, will speak on educator Cyrus Peirce. When Nantucket High School was founded in 1838, Peirce became its first principal.
The only Saturday talk will be given on Saturday, August 11, when Helen Seager, Convener of the Friends of the African Meeting House, will speak on “How We Did It: The Restoration of the African Meeting House,” Seager’s documentation in words and photos. The 1990s restoration was the work of many hands and hearts, and this talk is a must for every person concerned with historic preservation.
On Thursday, August 16, Frank and Bette Spriggs will speak “On Being Site Managers for the African Meeting House.” Frank and Bette served as the first site managers for Nantucket’s African Meeting House when it opened its doors to the public in ’99. During their tenure, they created the Spriggs lecture series that continues today, bringing a distinguished scholar to the Meeting House each summer.
On Thursday, August 23, Frances Karttunen will speak on the life and career of the Rev. James Crawford. The Reverend escaped from slavery in Virginia and became an ordained minister. He answered the call to Nantucket’s African Baptist Church, where he served for over forty years. During this time, through acts of extraordinary courage, he rescued both his sister-in-law and her daughter from slavery.
On Thursday, August 30, Frances Karttunen will speak on the Pompey family of New Guinea. An African man was manumitted from slavery on Nantucket in 1741 and lived until 1791. Adopting Pompey as a surname, his descendants became a prominent family in New Guinea. Whaling captain and merchant Edward C. Pompey was an active member of Nantucket’s anti-slavery society, while his nephew Sampson D. Pompey, was a whaleman and a Civil War veteran.
Make this the summer you learn about how Black Nantucketers have shaped the island. This summer’s series is dedicated to the late Renee Oliver and Eleanor Jones, two women whose impact upon Nantucket’s Black history will be felt for many years.