Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case

Description

On June 28, 1839, the schooner La Amistad set sail from Havana, Cuba, setting off a series of events that would have international and historical consequences. On board the schooner were 53 Africans who had been abducted from West Africa and sold in violation of international law. Their intended fate was enslavement on plantations down coast from Havana. On the third day out, the Africans revolted and ordered that the ship be guided toward the rising sun back to Africa, but each night the Cuban plantation owners who had purchased them from Havana’s slave market and survived the uprising changed course. Zigzagging for two months, the ship eventually was brought by northerly winds and currents to Long Island. Intercepted by the United States Navy, the Africans were jailed and charged with piracy and murder. In New York City, a group of Christian abolitionists, headed by Lewis Tappan, formed a defense committee. Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin, with help from former President John Quincy Adams, took the case to the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in March 1841 that the Africans were free. This digital collection is comprised of correspondence, dating from 1839-1841, by abolitionists, pro-slavery advocates, governmental officials, and the Amistad Africans themselves, related to the development of efforts to provide legal assistance to the Africans. The resulting trials in the U.S. court system; the political interests on the part of the United States, Cuba, and Spain; and the personal experiences of the imprisoned Africans are detailed in these letters, which are housed in the archives of the American Missionary Association, an abolitionist missionary organization that grew out of the Amistad Committee’s efforts.

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Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to "Dear Sir"
Correspondence from Amos Townsend acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letter, which included ten dollars. Townsend writes that he has seen Benjamin Griswold, who "cannot go without considerable sacrifice, as in addition to his Theological Lectures he is attending a course of Medical Lectures, which to those who anticipate a Foreign Mission are given gratuitously." He then asks for Tappan's opinion of the course Griswold could pursue should he consent to go., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to "Dear Sir"
Amos Townsend writes that John Ferry and Charles Pratt have been sent to New York and suggests something be done to draw wages and to send clothing for James Covey. The letter includes Townsend's report on a funeral for a deceased Captive., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to "Dear Sir"
Amos Townsend reports that James Covey is sick which will delay his travel to Hartford. Townsend writes that Dr. Madden "has serious fears of the results of the trials and thinks that the authorities at Washington are ready to give [the Amistad Captives] up.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Joshua Leavitt
A letter relating the introduction of Charles Pratt and James Covey as interpreters to the Amistad Captives and the story of their capture., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend Jr. acknowledging the receipt of Lewis Tappan's letter from November 4 containing ten dollars. Townsend inquires as to whether John Quincy Adams should see the Amistad Captives "and witness their improvement & their kind & affectionate feelings toward their friends." He suggests that if Tappan thinks it would be worthwhile, he should write to Adams. Townsend encloses a letter from Kale [not present]., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letters from March 26 and March 30. Townsend states that Tappan's enclosure for James Covey was not received and that he will send a statement of the accounts as soon as Sherman M. Booth provides them. He mentions that he has received the box of mezzotint portraits produced by John Sartain and will deliver them as directed. He thanks Tappan for allowing him to have a portrait and will "hold it as a sacred memento." Townsend then writes about James Covey mentioning that he is "quite unwilling to remain in this country any length of time," but will wait for a good opportunity to go to Sierra Leone. Townsend writes that he has sent Covey along with this letter, to Tappan in New York. He explains that he has not made a settlement with Covey, and has received in clothing and cash, $403. Townsend writes that Covey needs additional clothing, which would be given to him "as a matter of debt for his faithfulness" or out of kindness and good will. Townsend references his letter to Tappan, which was sent a day earlier by Norris Willcox, and then goes on to express his relief to learn that Antonio was seen in New York., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend reporting to Lewis Tappan that Antonio is missing. Townsend explains that Antonio was "supposed to have gone to New York" and adds that "Tappan is the author of the mischief." He writes that Marshal Norris Willcox thinks he will be held liable for the "property" and has asked Townsend for information about Antonio. Townsend told Willcox that he had advised Antonio to "clear out" due to the impression he received from Roger S. Baldwin "that the only claim on Antonio was from his owner in Havanna & that the Marshall was not liable." Townsend writes that Willcox plans to travel to New York to see Tappan and if Antonio is there, Willcox will request or claim him as legally under his custody. Townsend advises Tappan that, "you know from my former communications what are my views in regard to interference with law, " although, "in respect to the rights of master over a slave I do not require any such right & would assist the slave to gain his freedom.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
Amos Townsend acknowledges the receipt of $27.00 from Lewis Tappan. Townsend reports that John Quincy Adams has been to New Haven and has visited the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend which includes a bill of his expenses paid during the trial [United States v. Amistad or Amos Townsend v. Stanton Pendleton?]. His letter and states that Lewis Tappan has a bill for money paid to Sherman M. Booth. He explains that Amos Townsend believes Tappan misunderstood James Covey as having a place to live. Covey would be glad for a place for a few months and then return to Sierra Leone. Townsend has not secured a place and asks if Tappan can "do anything for him in New York" or in Farmington. Norton has sent newspapers relating "the public feeling here in regard to our late proceedings" and states that sentiment in New Haven is "right in the minds of all whose opinion is worth anything" and that great good will be done by "the notoriety which Pendleton & his [illegible] have given to the affair." Norton asks that Tappan send some of the portraits prepared by John Sartain., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend reporting that Mr. Williams has gone to Farmington, and that he has seen neither Williams nor John T. Norton and is uneasy. Townsend writes that he has not found Seth Staples and has "found Mr. White unwilling to move in the business, & of the decided opinion that nothing can be done. " He reports that all is quiet and that "J.W.H. thinks the two gentlemen whom we fear, are too much concerned & anxious about getting pay for their bills & one of them to retain his office under the coming administration, to care much about anything." He hopes "our fears are more than we have any grounds for" and states a watchman will "give immediate notice of any movement." He asks "what will information do, if we have nothing in our hands to act with?", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend to Lewis Tappan reporting that Mr. [John W.] Hill has arrived in New Haven and that Mr. Williams has gone to Hartford and plans to return tomorrow. Townsend writes that he has not attempted "to get out a writ here tonight," but shall do so tomorrow if a writ from Hartford does not appear., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend Jr. acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letters from December 21 and January 4, as well as the Bibles for the Amistad Captives, "the letter covering $8," and a package for Amos Smith. In his letter, Townsend provides financial accounting for the Amistad Committee and states that if the Supreme Court case is decided soon the amount will "probably more than carry us through." Townsend states that he has made no agreement with James Covey regarding compensation and that there is no "pressing need" for anything for the Amistad Captives when they return home. He adds that although they have books, clothes, and valuables, it is believed "that if each one had some article in which to preserve & carry them, it would be a great convenience & be more likely to ensure the safety of the books in their travels." He goes to to refute Tappan's idea that the girls did not want to go back to Africa, but will inquire about it. He reports that instruction for the Captives is going well., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
Amos Townsend Jr. writes that he acknowledges Lewis Tappan's letter "with the [illegible] & the cap for Kale." Townsend explains that the Amistad Captives "continue to make good application to their studies & improve much" and he advises Tappan to send up the Bibles from the Bible Society so he can deliver what he thinks is best. He adds that some of the captives can make use of the Bibles, while others cannot. Townsend goes on to ask Tappan if the change in administration will have any beneficial effect on the minds of the court and whether he has learned anything from his interview with John Quincy Adams., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letter from January 14, stating, "I am sad at what you communicate of your fears." Townsend writes that Mr. [Colburn] has come out strongly against the captives, claiming his opinion may be due to articles in the Washington Globe. Townsend finds the thought "too dreadful" that the captives "should be given up to the slaughter, or even to wear out their earthly existence on the plantations of Cuba." He adds that if the Supreme Court should "truckle to the spirit of Slavery...then is our liberty but a name & the union of the States a union of thieves & robbers." He asks if there is any hope of interference by the British government. Then goes on to report that the captives have no caps or any head coverings, and that he wishes to provide them cheap, cloth caps. He extends his sympathies to Tappan's "domestic affliction." It is mentioned in the letter, that Simeon Jocelyn has inquired about a writ of habeas corpus. Townsend writes that he has received a letter from A.F. Williams of Farmington "who says the African must be put into a place of safety." Although such action may save lives, it would compromise the abolitionists' principles, asking for Tappan's views on the subject and that of the committee. He explains that he has heard that the Supreme Court case will be postponed until February due to Judge Joseph Story's illness. Townsend writes that Sherman Booth has "preserved a copy of Kale's letter" to which Tappan alludes, stating that there are no "turbulent manifestations of distress" among the Amistad Captives except that "Cinque is losing flesh from no other apparent cause than his mental disquiet.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter with an enclosed check from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan for support of the Amistad Captives. In his letter, Townsend presents a financial account for purchasing caps for the Amistad Captives and encloses $500 from Arthur Tappan as well as a letter to be delivered to [illegible]. He reports that Brother [John W.] Hill will return to New York due to the postponement of the trial and that Thomas Fessenden has returned from Hartford and will inform Lewis Tappan of his mission. Townsend mentions that Fessenden has seen Roger S. Baldwin, who thinks "with great confidence" the Africans will be liberated.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letter which was sent via Brother [John W.] Hill, who has settled at the Quinnipiac House in New Haven under the care of Stanton Pendleton. In his letter, Townsend informs Tappan that "[illegible] has also arrived," and reports that the Supreme Court has postponed the trial until February 16. He adds that Hill "will reconntoir & examine the ground until he is recalled" and thinks "he has a good post for observation of matters." He writes that he has not yet seen the Africans and has spoken with Cinque "not to go with anybody in the night, but to keep the people together...and not suffer themselves to be carried off by stealth." Cinque will keep the matter to himself and has been instructed not to lodge outside the room where all the Africans sleep. Cinque says, "if they come we all holler loud & make plenty noise." Townsend writes that he acknowledges Tappan's letter of January 20. He mentions that Judge Samuel Hitchcock is in New Haven, but he has not been able to see him. Townsend makes note of having received Tappan and Jocelyn's joint letter and explains that he cannot go to Hartford. He reports that Stanton Pendleton and Norris Willcox have not yet returned., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend sending his condolences to Lewis Tappan upon the death of Tappan's daughter, Eliza. Townsend reports that the Africans have passed through New Haven on their way to New York, mentioning that Tappan will have an interesting time and be happy "to be present if circumstances permit." Townsend writes that he was informed by John T. Norton that "it was the design of the Committee in New York to separate the girls & take one of them to Mr. Weld"; however, he does not agree with this proposal and states his reasons why. Townsend adds that he received a letter from James Covey "applying to [him] for aid" because he was in need of clothes and money. Townsend further writes that Covey "has a claim on our kindness & to some oversight of his wants" and asks Tappan to look out for him., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letter from March 25. Townsend writes that he will provide an account of his receipts and expenses for the Africans. He explains that the children Tappan saw at his house are his sisters and states, "I have none of my own except black ones, which Mr. [Ingall?] says will not suffer in comparison with any white ones in New Haven for improvement while at the Quinnipiac Institution." Townsend discusses Tappan's comment that he "would pay Antonio's expense to New York & look out for him if he were to come," mentioning that Antonio will depart on Monday. Townsend will pay Antonio's boat passage and accompany him to Tappan's store unless someone can meet him at the boat in New York. He writes that women in New Haven are making clothes for the girls, while women in Farmington are making clothes for the men. A.F. Williams suggests a meeting to consult on future plans and that he would be happy to go to Farmington to meet the Africans as needed. Townsend appends the note saying he has met with Simeon S. Jocelyn and will delay Antonio's passage until Tuesday in order to send him under Jocelyn's care., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend stating that an examination of the Africans "establishes very fully the fact that they were all, with the exception of Antonio," recently shipped from Africa to Cuba, then purchased in Havana, and put on board the Amistad. The letter discusses the work of Josiah W. Gibbs in communicating with the Africans and Cinque's desire to learn English. Townsend's letter mentions James Covey and Charles Pratt working as interpreters; Seth Staples and Roger Baldwin discussing affidavits and the arrest of Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez; and a discussion about Christianity with the Africans., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Amos Townsend Jr. to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Amos Townsend informing Lewis Tappan that he has written to Marshal Norris Willcox about the Amistad Captives. Townsend writes that he went to Westville with Willcox "to see & enquire & become satisfied" and states that "new orders have been given to those in charge." He explains that Stanton Pendleton and Willcox will make no movement among the Africans until the Supreme Court decision and has informed Willcox that others would not attempt "to interfere for a rescue." He reports that additional locks and watchmen will be used "to prevent disturbances" and that one of the watchmen is Mr. [John W.?] Hill who is in the confidence of Pendleton. Both Willcox and Pendleton believe the Supreme Court will send the case back to the District Court; Judge Hitchcock has expressed his opinion regarding a writ of habeas corpus. Townsend asks that Tappan not make public "the statement [he] made about their [illegible] as the evil is now rectified & it might make a disturbance with no good result.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org

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