American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

DEAN, HARRY [FOSTER] (1864-1935). Published in 1929 in Boston, Berlin, and London, Harry Dean’s unique sea narrative and remarkable autobiography was entitled Umbala in Britain and The Pedro Gorino in the United States.

Dean was born in Philadelphia in 1864, a descendant of Paul Cuffe,* the first noted black sea captain, and was educated briefly at Philadelphia’s Institute for Colored Youth. Between 1876 and 1879 he sailed around the world with his uncle Silas Dean, visiting South Africa, Ethiopia, and ports of the Far East, including Japan. Between 1880 and 1900 he purchased the Pedro Gorino and again traveled the seas. In 1900 he visited London, where he met W.E.B. Du Bois; at about this time Dean proposed an “Ethiopian Empire” and espoused his ideas on black nationalism. He spent several years on the African continent and in 1909 was in Liberia promoting a merchant fleet. He sat out World War I in Chicago, avoiding the war at sea. Dean traveled to California in 1921, where he met with associates of Marcus Garvey and in 1924 chartered the Dean Habashi Nautical College of Almeda, a school to train African American sailors. When this venture failed, Dean attempted to promote black agricultural communities in Washington state.

Dean began his autobiography in 1928, when two University of Chicago professors introduced the aging seaman to Sterling North, a university student with literary aspirations. Over that year, North assisted Dean in preparing his recollections for publications, and early the next year The Pedro Gorino was published. Dean died in the summer of 1935. His rare account of a black sea captain was reprinted in 1989 in the United States. [See also AFRICAN AMERICAN LITERATURE]

Boyd Childress