Article by: Emma Chapman
According to family memory, Julia Ann Shelton Shorey’s grandfather, Samuel Shelton, was brought west as an enslaved person in the 1840s and ultimately purchased his own freedom and that of his family in the new state of California.1 His son Frank, Julia Shorey’s father, helped found one of the first Baptist churches for Black Americans in California.2 Born on June 10, 1865, Julia Ann Shelton was thus part of an influential Black family connected to local and national efforts to expand opportunities for African Americans after the Civil War.3 These opportunities brought her to the heights of the maritime community connecting San Francisco to the world.
Shorey herself attended boarding school at the Phoenixonian Institute in San Jose, the first school in California where Black Americans could receive a secondary education.4 While there, she became extremely skilled at French embroidery and eventually had her work selected for display at the Mechanics’ Fair in San Francisco.5 In the 1880s, she married Captain William T. Shorey, a sea captain from Barbados who was the only Black ship captain on the West Coast.6 He frequently sailed from San Francisco, which by 1900 was the foremost international trading hub on the North American West Coast, importing and exporting over six million tons of goods.7 The couple had five children, three of whom survived to adulthood.8
Because her husband was often absent at sea, Shorey was responsible for running her household and caring for their children on her own. However, as a sea captain’s wife Shorey was also a citizen of the Pacific Rim, and she accompanied her husband on voyages to Hawai‘i, Mexico, and Russia. She described her experiences abroad to her home community in letters to the editor published in the Black-owned newspaper, The San Francisco Elevator.9 Occasionally she would bring her children on voyages too. While the Victorian ideal of family life divided the home from the workplace, Shorey combined the two when she brought her children with her husband to sea. In 1902, she commented to a newspaper that her three-year-old Victoria was “a remarkable sailor” and observed wryly: “She knows the ropes and has perfect command of her father.”10 Unfortunately, one of these voyages ended tragically. Despite major strides in medicine at the turn of the century, early death was still common; when Shorey’s twenty-year-old daughter Zenobia Pearl became ill on a trip to Hawai‘i, she died soon after she returned home.11
Like many middle-class, African American women across the United States, Shorey was very active in the Black community in her area. For over sixteen years she served as the president of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People of Oakland, obtaining funding and assistance for older Black Americans. She also served in leadership positions for various Black women’s clubs and fraternal orders near San Francisco, such as the Household of Ruth, the Good Samaritans, and the Knaresborough Circle, where she helped organize meetings and charitable events.
After her husband’s death in 1918, Shorey moved with her daughter Victoria and teenaged son William to Oregon. Victoria, who had trained in typing at Oakland Technical School, turned her high school typing awards into a respectable job as a clerk, which enabled her to support the family of three.12 Eventually, Shorey and her daughter moved back to California where Victoria married and continued clerking for law offices and government departments.13 Shorey lived the rest of her days with her daughter’s family, eventually dying of heart disease on March 12, 1944 in Alameda, California.14 She was buried with her husband and daughter Zenobia Pearl in Mountain View Cemetery.15
1 - Delilah L. Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, A Compilation of Records from the California Archives in the Bancroft Library at the University of California in Berkeley and from the Diaries, Old Papers and Conversations of Old Pioneers in the State of California. It is a True Record of Facts, as They Pertain to the History of the Pioneer and Present Day Negroes of California (Los Angeles, 1919), 71-72.
2 - Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 122, 233.
3 - "California Death Index, 1940-1997." Database. FamilySearch. http://FamilySearch.org: 14 June 2016. Department of Public Health Services, Sacramento. https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VPZ8-6NC
4 - “Five Views: An Ethnic Historic Site Survey for California (Black Americans),” National Parks Service (U.S. Department of the Interior, November 17, 2004), https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/5views/5views2h81.htm.
5 - Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 322.
6 - E. Berkeley Tompkins, “Black Ahab: William T. Shorey, Whaling Master,” California Historical Quarterly 51, no. 1 (1972): 75-84.
7 - “Port of San Francisco,” April 20, 24AD, https://sfport.com/port-history.
8 - "United States Census, 1910," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRVW-4SV?cc=1727033&wc=QZZ7-1WP%3A133639101%2C133639102%2C134636001%2C1589088843 : 23 June 2017), California > Alameda > Oakland Ward 4 > ED 110 > image 8 of 40; citing NARA microfilm publication T624 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.)
9 - Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 125-126.
10 - The date was extrapolated from Victoria’s birth date from Birth Certificates, 1870-1904 for the City of Oakland. Volume 61, p. 615, birth certificate entry for Victoria Shorey. FamilySearch. Accessed July 13, 2020. The quotation is from Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 126.
11 - Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 126 ;Elizabeth Tilton, “Zenobia Pearl Shorey (1888-1908),” April 27, 2006, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14088948/zenobia-pearl-shorey; "United States Census, 1900," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:S3HY-D1V3-CHP?cc=1325221&wc=9B7P-VZG%3A1030559601%2C1033363901%2C1033526001 : 5 August 2014), California > Alameda > ED 357 Oakland city Ward 4 > image 13 of 24; citing NARA microfilm publication T623 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
12 - Beasley, The Negro Trail Blazers of California, 233; "United States Census, 1920," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GRFQ-HVY?cc=1488411&wc=QZJT-CTZ%3A1036471901%2C1037537401%2C1036782401%2C1589332323 : 13 September 2019), Oregon > Clatsop > Hammond > ED 78 > image 8 of 13; citing NARA microfilm publication T625 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.). Tompkins, “Black Ahab,”83; "California Death Index, 1905-1939," database with images, FamilySearch(https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-L1S2-84Y?cc=1932433&wc=M6PR-F68%3A228662301%2C228687801 : 27 May 2015), 1905-1929 > Rounsfell, Charles-Z > image 159 of 748; William Shorey Death Certificate record; Vital Statistics Department, Sacramento.
13 - "United States Census, 1930," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GR44-KTM?cc=1810731&wc=QZF9-CFH%3A648807101%2C651713601%2C649106301%2C1589283701: 8 December 2015), California > Alameda > Oakland > ED 174 > image 2 of 82; citing NARA microfilm publication T626 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002); "United States Census, 1940," database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L9MT-3NPH?cc=2000219&wc=QZXP-2L8%3A790105301%2C790105302%2C790544301%2C790552101 : accessed 14 July 2020), California > Alameda > Oakland Judicial Township, Berkeley, Tract 2A > 1-88 Oakland Judicial Township, Berkeley City (Tract 2A - part) > image 7 of 22; citing Sixteenth Census of the United States, 1940, NARA digital publication T627. Records of the Bureau of the Census, 1790 - 2007, RG 29. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.
14 - California, Oakland, Mountain View Cemetery Records, 1857-1973. Vol. 14, p. 170-171. “Shorey, Julia.” FamilySearch accessed July 13, 2020.
15 - Elizabeth Tilton, “Julia Ann Shelton Shorey (1865-1944) ,” Find a Grave, April 27, 2006, https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/14088922/julia-ann-shorey.
This project was made possible in part by a grant from the National Park Foundation.
This project was conducted in Partnership with the University of California Davis History Department through the Californian Cooperative Ecosystem Studies Unit, CA# P20AC00946