Sailors, 19th Century

In bygone days, almost all international transport went by sea. The industry needed many hands on board to bring the cargo from port to port. The larger seaports were essential and powerful trade centers and gateways into Sweden for many foreign sailors. Some of these sailors were black, and some stayed when their ships set sail again.


The most well-known is a man born in Cayenne, French Guiana, in 1844 or 1845 - just before the abolition of slavery there. His name was Pierre Louis Alexandre, though he would call himself Pettersson in Sweden. He was in his twenties when he first came to Stockholm in April 1863 - perhaps onboard S/S Ostindia with sugar from Bahia in Brazil. Alexandre ended up staying in Sweden, unloading coal and grain in the harbor all his life. He married twice but fathered no children. His fame is entirely because, for twenty-five years, he was a frequently hired model at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. As a result, there are close to forty known paintings of him. Well-known painters such as Olle Hjortzberg and Anders Zorn portrayed him. Alexandre also sat for many female artists, including Karin Bergöö (who came to marry Carl Larsson). In some of the portraits, he is presented as an exotic stereotype wearing a turban and harem trousers. However, Pierre Louis Alexandre, the individual, is skillfully brought out in other paintings.

Johan Charles Timotheus, another black sailor, was born around 1846 near the River of Gabon in the Upper Guinean region of West Africa. As reported in the Swedish press, Johan Charles Timotheus claimed to be of Benga descent and the son of a Chief, near a French trading post. At age fourteen, he enlisted as a cabin boy aboard the Gothenburg vessel Miltiades under Captain Lidbeck. While onboard, Timotheus learned to read. In October 1863, Johan Timotheus arrived in Sweden with Captain Lidbeck, who sent him to school in Gothenburg, where he began to attend the confirmation teaching of Reverend Wieselgren. On 17 January 1864, Johan Charles Timotheus was baptized in Haga Church, and declared his desire to become a missionary. After his baptism, he enrolled at the Johannelund School of Theology in Bromma, outside Stockholm. In 1869, he returned to West Africa to spread the word of the Lord.


Information about Pierre Louis Alexandre was primarily sourced from http://matswerner.blogg.se/category/negern-pettersson.html

Information about Pierre Louis Alexandre and Johan Charles Timotheus from https://tidningar.kb.se

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