Captain Healy was born in 1839. His father was an Irish Georgian plantation owner from the South. His mother was black, a domestic slave and her name was Mary Eliza (Clark). Captain Healy was the fifth of ten children. His father Michael Morris Healy was not rich and it was rare in those times for a plantation owner to marry a slave and rear the children as one's own - belonging to the master of the plantation.
Captain Healy's mother was a domestic slave - her father was French-Spanish cotton baron and her mother a slave who hailed from Mali.
In those harsh days if any person was known to have a drop of black blood - under the one-drop law - one could not avail themselves of all those rights that the Whites enjoyed. Being colored was not a nice thing and the stigma attached to the treatment of a colored person prevented one from enjoying the progressive liberties most Whites enjoyed.
|Captain Healy and his siblings all did well for themselves by escaping to the North and taking refuge in Catholic institutions after their parents died with month when all of them were young. All of them did well for themselves one of his brothers even becoming a Bishop. Another brother holding a high position in a University. Captain Healy ran away from the Church he did not want to join the priesthood. He found his love on the ships and traveled to Calcutta. Years later he would return to the United States and join the Revenue Cutter Service.|
We are interested in Captain Healy because he was a man of color who looked White. All his siblings passed as Whites and did well. He knew he was Black but he hid this factor and in hiding his true colors he suffered much. Yet he is famous as a first class Captain who could navigate the rough seas by the Alaskan Coast, handled the toughest of the tough men who worked on the decks of the ships - brought some innovative solutions to the survival of the native Alaskan people.
In those wild days Captain Healy represented the United States. It is true he had to collect revenue but he also had to keep law and order. For many years he was the only one the Alaskan and Siberian natives recognized as a man of authority representing the United States. Often times he had to participate in rescuing sailors and others at sea. Congress respected him for his bravery and he won many in high places. After his death Captain Healy was forgotten and it is only in recent years that his heroic deeds are mentioned and he is given some recognition by modern day society.
Captain Healy and his wife spent many years in San Francisco and recently the Coast Guard named a ship after him. A state of the art ship. The paradox was when Captain Healy rose through the ranks he was admired for his navigating skills. He was admired for his diligence. He was known as a tough taskmaster. However, many other Captains who hailed from well to do families - hated his guts. These young Turks planned to put him down and strip him of his dignity.
Captain Healy belonged to the Revenue Cutter Service and this arm of the government-collected revenue for the United States from the many industries on and off the Alaskan Coast and beyond. In those days seals were killed in the thousands, so were whales, and other products fished and mined to near extinction. The men were rough, killing and murder was rampant. It was survival of the fittest in the wilderness of Alaska and Siberia. Captain Healy with his few men at hand represented the law and the United States.
After years at sea and always running away from his true identity Captain Healy took to heavy drinking. The Temperance Society in San Francisco and many others tried to fault Captain Healy for his heavy drinking and cruelty to some of his men. He had rich friends who were connected to the trades of the time, which brought in thousands of dollars. He even had friends in Congress but to no avail - he was stripped of his Captainship for 4 years. Some say he wizened up during these years - but the truth is he never could stay away from alcohol.
Some sailors, the public at the insistence of the Temperance Society, which had clout in those days marched on the Streets of San Francisco and contacted the authorities to rid Captain Healy of his rank. They considered him a drunk who abused his men on the cutter. Some agreed with this assumption but many did not. At first Captain Healy managed to ward off the protagonist from the Temperance Society but some years later they got him. Captain Healy and his wife lived in San Francisco. His wife loved him and would join him on some of his trips.
April 23, 1790 the U.S. government ordered those 10 Cutters be built. August 4, 1790 the Revenue Cutter Service was formed. Years later the Coast Guard was formed in 1915 it arose from the famous Revenue Cutter Service. To this day those in the Coast Guard who know their history respect the men and the Captains of the famous Revenue Cutter Service. The most famous of Alaska's Revenue Cutter Service is Captain Michael Healy. His cutter the Bear.
In those days the traders thought nothing of the natives the many good indigenous people from Siberia and Alaska. Greedy whalers and hunters saw nothing in wiping out whales, seals, bears you name it. Captain Healy was instrumental in introducing reindeer from Siberia to the native Alaskans. This fact saved many natives from starvation. To this day the Alaskans have fond memories of Captain Michael Harley. They all remember he commanded the now famous Barkentine Steamer named Bear from 1886 to 1895.
Even as we in recent years are learning more about the Buffalo Soldiers and the Tuskegee Airmen - we fail to pay respect and learn more about a great African American Captain who earned so much respect among the natives of Siberia and Alaska and brought much fame and glory to the United States.
In 1995 some children from New York petitioned Congress and had a modern Coast Guard Ship named after Captain Michael Healy. This is a state of the art ship, which will keep his memory alive. A recent documentary does some justice to the famous Captain of the wild seas - Captain Micheal Healy. Most San Franciscans of his time knew about this famous Captain. Today, most do not. Why?
It is right that our children learn and read about him in our schools. It is right that our children learn about the Buffalo Soldiers. Even as they should about the Chinese who built the railway and the Japanese who fought in World War II. The Hispanics and African American heroes who died in Vietnam and others from all races who have done the United States - proud.
U.S. Coast Guard Healy
U.S. Coast Guard Healy
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