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Amazing Grace: Sailing Into Slavery, Sailing Into Freedom

June 1, 2017 @ 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

John H. Miller, PhD, will be the speaker at the Richardson Maritime Museum on Saturday, June 24 from 1 to 2 p.m. at 401 High Street in Cambridge. Admission is free. For more information, call 410-221-1871.

John Miller’s talk “Amazing Grace:” Sailing into Slavery, Sailing onto Freedom” is based on research for a course he taught as one of some 35 faculty during the University Virginia’s Semester at Sea program aboard the student ship MV World Odyssey during its four-month 2015 voyage of Atlantic exploration. During this journey some 400 undergraduate students from the USA and abroad took for-credit courses on various subjects while sailing to ports in the Mediterranean, West Africa, and across the Atlantic’s infamous “Middle Passage” to Brazil, and onward to the Caribbean, through the Panama Canal, and ending in San Diego.

We are all familiar with then-enslaved Frederick Douglass’s famous ode to the white sails of vessels on Chesapeake’s Eastern Bay that he hoped would one day sail him into to freedom from bondage in Talbot County. But few of us are familiar with the lesser-known words of then-free Ibo tribesman Olaudah Equiano who later recorded his horror on being captured and then seeing the white sails of a large ship off the Bight of Benin, a ship that would sail him into slavery in the supposed “El Dorado” of the New World.

John will discuss the shared experiences that enmeshed all aboard these “Guineamen,” a euphemism for slave ships. From the ruthless, all-powerful captains of these vessels and their motley down-and-out crews to the enslaved African “cargo” held ‘tween decks, all aboard descended into hell. One of these captains was John Newton, a man who later repented of his voyages aboard slave ships, became an Anglican minister, and wrote the world-famous hymn, Amazing Grace.  “Whatever ‘amazing grace’ may have come from the international slave trade,” says Miller, “can be found in the even lesser-known and extraordinarily poignant stories about personal post-voyage encounters between slave ships’ crews and their ‘cargo.’” On a more local level, Miller will also explore aspects of the “maritime underground railroad” that operated along America’s mid-Atlantic during the 19th century, including the story of the schooner Pearl.

John H. Miller received his PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and his BA from Yale College.  He currently co-facilitates literature courses with his colleague, John Ford, at the Academy for Lifelong Learning at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, where Miller formerly served as Vice President of Advancement.  Miller has taught American and English literature as a Fulbright Advanced Teaching Fellow at the University of Clermont-Ferrand, France, as well as teaching as adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon University (where he was Director of Development for the Dietrich College of Humanities & Social Sciences), American University, Washington College, and most recently Visiting Lecturer with the University of Virginia’s “Semester at Sea” voyages in 2013 and 2015.  He and his wife Emily live in Easton.

For more information, contact Melissa Thomas at info@richardsonmuseum.org.


June 1, 2017
8:00 am - 5:00 pm


Richardson Maritime Museum
401 High Street
Cambridge, MD 21613 United States
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