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LHS program Feb. 21 focuses on African-American Delawareans in Union Navy

Feb 14, 2014
Source: Lewes Historical Society Pencil sketch of USS Patapsco undergoing surveillance operations. This USS Patapsco was the fourth U.S. Navy ship to bear that name. It was an ironclad vessel built by Harlan & Hollingsworth, Wilmington, launched Sept. 27, 1862, and commissioned Jan. 2, 1863. Assigned to the South Atlantic Blocking Squadron, the ship took part in the bombardment of Fort McAllister March 3, 1863. On Jan. 14, 1865, while participating in obstruction clearance operations in Charleston Harbor, Patapsco struck a Confederate mine and sank, with heavy loss of life.

Some 348 African-American Delawareans from the state’s three counties served on U.S. naval vessels during the Civil War. And some of their ships, such as the USS Potapsco, were built in the First State.

The Lewes Historical Society will hear stories Friday, Feb. 21, about black Delawareans who assisted the Union Navy on inland waters, captured blockade runners from the Bahamas and chased Confederate raiders at sea.

“Sail and Steam with African-American Delawareans in the Union Navy” will be presented by African-American historian Dr. Peter Dalleo. The program begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Lewes Presbyterian Church Fellowship Hall, Kings Highway, Lewes.

Delaware Humanities Forum speaker Dalleo said, “The percentage of the black sailors in the Civil War was high compared with those in the Union Army. These sailors also assisted formerly enslaved ‘contrabands’ freed or self-emancipated during the Union’s military engagements in the Confederacy.” He said the experience of black men in the Union Navy adds a new chapter to the history of the Civil War.

Dalleo will also discuss how after the war, former mariners such as Moses America, Peter Blake and Elzy Russ continued the fight to achieve economic, political and social equality. According to Dalleo, not much has been done on the roles of these colored Civil War sailors even though many of the blockade runner crews often comprised as much as 25 percent of of a vessel’s crew. His presentation will focus on these sailors and their postwar struggles for equal rights.

Dalleo earned his PhD in African History at Syracuse University. He has taught at College of the Bahamas, LeMoyne College, University of Delaware and The Tatnall School. He is a member of the Underground Railroad Coalition Delaware and is the author of “Researching the Underground Railroad in Delaware.”

The public is cordially invited to attend this talk highlighting African-American History Month. Light refreshments will be served following the presentation. For a complete schedule of the speaker series and to learn more about The Lewes Historical Society, call 302-645-7670 or go to www.HistoricLewes.org.

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