I am happily chugging my way through "To Rule the Waves" a rather splendid rendition of the history of the Royal Navy and its vital importance in the creation of Britain, its empire and the system of free trade by Arthur Herman, when I came across this on page 242.
"John Parkins, the pilot seaman who ended up commanding the brig Endeavor as a lieutenant and then the frigates Turk and Arab as a post captain, until ill health forced him out in 1805. Remarkable enough because Parkins spent his entire career as a Royal Navy officer in the West Indies, without once visiting England. But remarkable, too, because Parkins was black, the son of a slave and very probably a former slave himself".
Now a bit more research suggest a couple of things, firstly it appears his name was Perkins not Parkins,
"1801 Capt. J. PERKINS, Jamaica. on 16 April 1801 the French garrison evacuated the island of St. Eustatia, carrying with them their field pieces and as much plunder as their ships could carry. Capt. PERKINS and a detachment of the 3rd regiment of Buffs immediately took possession of the island together with island of Saba. The ordnance captured on the island consisted of 48 pieces of ordnance with 338 barrels of gunpowder".
According to The Wooden World: An Anatomy of the Georgian Navy" by NAM Rodger,
"in 1775, John Perkins was the "pilot extra" of the flagship of the Jamaica squadron. He must have been an experienced local commercial master or mate. Within a few years he was commanding the Punch, a schooner-rigged tender. In 1782, Sir Peter Parker commissioned him lieutenant in command of the Endeavor brig. In 1784, Rodney added guns to make Endeavor a commander's command and temporarily promoted him to commander. Because of the shenanigans, the promotion was not confirmed and Perkins had to wait till 1797 to advance to commander. In 1800, Perkins was made post and successively commanded the Arab and the Tartar. The first was a 22-gun "post ship" while the second was a 32-gun, 12-pounder frigate. Perkins went ashore due to "ill-health" in 1805 and died in 1812".
An extraordinary story and a testament to the burgeoning meritocracy that the Royal Navy of the time displayed. As a post captain he would have had white officers serving under him. So somebody, go get that publisher's deal.
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