Michael Shiner

Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, 1866. Collection: Naval History & Heritage Command, NH 57941

Michael G. Shiner (1805–1880) was born a slave in Maryland and came to Washington, D.C., circa 1812. In 1828, Thomas Howard, chief clerk of the Washington Navy Yard, bought Shiner, then leased him as a laborer to the Navy Yard paint shop. Shiner worked there until approximately ten years before his death.  After Howard, who died in 1832, stipulated in his will that Shiner be freed in 1840, Shiner likely purchased his freedom and that of his family from the Howard family over a period of years. The 1850 District of Columbia census lists Shiner as a freeman along with his second wife, Jane, and their three children: Sarah (age 12), Isaac (age 5), and Braxton (6 months).  Shiner learned to read and write at the First Presbyterian Church of Washington, where a Sunday school was established for African Americans. Shiner kept a journal, which he called his “book.” Its first entries describe events during the War of 1812: the British invasion of Washington and the eventual burning of the U.S. Capitol and Navy Yard.  As the diary continues, Shiner’s observations, sometimes supplemented with later reflections and information gleaned from newspaper accounts, chronicle working conditions in the Navy Yard, the city’s racial tensions, and evolving issues of military and civilian life in Washington, D.C., over a period of more than half of the nineteenth century.

Source: “The Diary of Michael Shiner Relating to the History of the Washington Navy Yard, 1813–1869.” Transcribed with introduction and notes by John G. Sharp [2007]. www.history.navy.mil/library/online/shinerdiary.html