Cumberland (“Cap”) and Anna Posey were a remarkable African American couple with Southeast Ohio connections. They achieved a level of success in life that was unusual for Blacks in the late 1800's and early 1900's. I found their story captivating. What was it that motivated them - from humble beginnings - to learn, to strive, to persevere through the challenges? That is the subject of this blog post. I learned about Posey from an exhibit at the Ohio River Museum in Marietta, Ohio. There you can discover his story, along with many other aspects of steamboating and life on the river.
C. W. Posey of Munhall, Pa., is the first Negro granted a Chief Engineer's license to run a steamboat on the Mississippi River and tributaries. He is now general manager of the Delta and Cyclone Towboat company. He is also a stockholder in that company.
- DICK HENDERSON built in 1873 at Parkersburg WV
- SALLIE J COOPER built in 1878 at Parkersburg by Captain Ed B. Cooper
- VOLCANO was built for Posey at Parkersburg 1905.
- OLIVETTE was built at Knox Ship Yard in Marietta in 1882. Posey bought it in 1896.
- CW possessed a rare combination of intelligence, drive, and perseverance.
- His father was a positive influence. After emerging from slavery, he earned a responsible position with the AME church, and provided for his children. He allowed and probably encouraged CW to pursue steamboat engineering.
- Faith, probably learned from his parents. CW was active in his church and many charitable organizations.
- A friendly disposition: The Colored American Magazine said “In person, Mr. Posey is a man of robust features, genial habits, and never in too big a hurry to greet you with a smile.”
- He was aggressive in business practices - some say, to a fault. He often sued and was sued and was jailed once after being convicted of fraud. He was soon pardoned, testimony to his reputation and perhaps to the influence of his white business partners. This aspect of his character is hard to assess. Was he simply holding his own as a Black operator in the "rough and tumble," mostly white-dominated river industry? Or was he ruthless in pursuing his own agenda. It was probably the former, based on the accolades of many other people.
- Good character and reputation; three examples, among many:
- Frank Bolden, local Pittsburgh historian: “(Posey) was a pillar of African American culture and progress...He was a good citizen and a very good role model.”
- Evan Posey Baker (CW’s great grandson): “He was never satisfied with what he accomplished; he wasn’t the type of guy who would sit on his past achievements.”
- Way's Towboat Directory: "Captain (Cumberland) Posey was well respected on the river..."
- Mentors. There were several of those, attracted by the skills and work ethic they saw in him.
- Mr. Payton from Belpre helped CW find his first riverboat job and encouraged his interest in steamboats.
- Seward Hays (Pittsburgh coal merchant William Seward Brenneman "WSB" Hays) employed CW as an engineer on several of his boats. CW named his second son “Seward” in honor of Mr. Hays.
- Andrew Carnegie trusted CW enough to use Posey’s boats for transporting iron ore and coal.
- Good partners. Author James Overmyer in Cum Posey observed that CW often worked with white business partners. That gave him credibility, connections, and financial support. And they gained an energetic and trusted operator.
- Intelligence and talent
- Encouragement from her parents and mentors, probably some of her teachers.
- Perseverance: She, and other Black children in rural Athens County, Ohio, were lucky to attend public school. Something drove her to study, excel, and achieve goals - such as teaching school in a mostly white area. Surely she faced opposition in doing this. Yet she pressed on, graduated, and earned teaching positions.
- Reputation. Her talents as a young person were noticed by the Athens community. Later in life, The 1910 Pennsylvania Negro Business Directory listing of “Mrs. Anna Posey” was typical of comments about Anna:
Mrs. Posey is a prominent figure in the Ladies Federation of Clubs and takes an active interest in all movements tending to improvements in the race. She is a lady of education and refinement and has devoted much study made to the fine arts.
- Business judgment which enabled her to advise and partner with CW in business ventures.
- Artistic talent.
- Social skills. A poor Black girl from rural Ohio adapted to fit in with prominent people in an bustling, urban setting.
- Courage to take controversial positions and actions.