Steamboat Era Museum to host author and unveil 2017 exhibit

The Dr. W. J. Newbill (above) was the largest of Capt. Hansford C. Bayton’s boats. It was built in Urbanna in 1905 at the cost of $22,000. ($596,000 today). Photo courtesy of the Steamboat Era Museum

The Steamboat Era Museum will welcome Dr. Julie Sullivan, author of Against the Tide: The Turbulent Times of a Black Entrepreneur, for the opening of the new 2017 exhibition.

The book is about the life and times of her great grandfather, Capt. Hansford C. Bayton.

Bayton was born in Essex County, the illegitimate son of an African-American woman and a Native-American. He rose from very humble beginnings to become the captain and owner of four excursion and mail steamboats that plied the Rappahannock River during the late 19th- and early-20th centuries, reported executive director Barbara Brecher.

During the difficult Jim Crow period in American history when segregation was the law of the land, Bayton acquired wealth and the respect of both blacks and whites.

Eventually, all his boats were destroyed by suspicious fires and he lost everything, said Brecher. But this is not the story of despair, but rather of one man’s dignified courage and determination to succeed in tumultuous times. He was a man truly ahead of his time.

The 2017 exhibition on Capt. Bayton, “Against the Tide: The Astonishing Life of a Black Steamship Captain,” is based on Sullivan’s book, the scholarship of noted historian William Bray Jr., and additional research. It tells Bayton’s story from his birth in 1863, the year of the Emancipation Proclamation, to his death in 1927, the year Charles Lindbergh made the first trans-Atlantic flight, said Brecher.

“This singular, amazing story of one African-American family’s experience during the Steamboat Era breaks new ground and sheds new light on a previously unknown slice of Northern Neck history,” she said. “It is our hope that this exhibition will inspire visitors to think about perseverance and courage in the face of discrimination and to make a difference in the lives of others.”

Dr. Sullivan will be at the museum from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday, May 26, for the opening of the exhibition and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, May 27, to sign copies of her book. The public is invited to the opening reception from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday.

This exhibition was made possible with the generous funding support of the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation and donations to the Steamboat Era Museum.