During the Age of Sail, black seamen could be found in many shipboard roles in the Royal Navy, such as gunners, deck-hands and ‘top men’, working at heights in the rigging. In the later Age of Steam, black seamen were more likely to be found on merchantmen below deck; as cooks, stewards and stokers. Nevertheless, the navy was possibly a unique institution in that black and white could work alongside each other more than in any other occupation.
Black sailors signed off in British ports helped the steady growth of a black population. In spite of racial prejudice in port, relationships were forged between sailors of different races which frequently ignored expected norms when working and living together in the isolated world of the ship.
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