FROM PRISON CELL TO THE SEA: Greg White and Jeff Bolster

13 Mar

Bolster and fish

You remember Jeff Bolster, right? He lives down the street from me here in Portsmouth, and I’ve crewed on his boat, and he’s crewed on my boat, and he doesn’t mind eating fish raw for breakfast. He teaches history at the University of New Hampshire and in a past life was a pro schooner jockey. I’ve heard from him the story of how his first scholarly tome, Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail (Harvard University Press, 1997), proved to be a major inspiration to a black prison inmate, Greg White, who consequently went on to forge a career as a merchant mariner after serving out a 22-year sentence for armed robbery. As a result, Jeff and Greg formed a bond that continues to this day.

Now their relationship has been featured in a recent mini-movie produced by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which you can watch right here:


Good stuff. I’ve never met Greg, but I can assure you Jeff really does talk like that in real life.

Jeff’s most recent tome, The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail (Harvard University Press, 2012), has so far failed to inspire any prison inmates, but did win the Bancroft Prize last year.

Bolster with beer

Remembering the good old days

Jeff tells me someday he’s going to write a hot memoir of his schooner days. Tentative title: Chicks and Ships. The NEH has already optioned the movie rights.


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