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 George M. Tuthill to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter sent by George M. Tuthill pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Gerrit Smith to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Gerrit Smith acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letter of March 14 and finding its contents of interest to him and his family. He longs to see the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter Extra and "particularly the letter of Kale." Smith writes that he desires the Africans "in the event of their liberation" to remain in the United States for one or two years to learn more English and of Jesus "to prepare themselves to be greater blessings to their countrymen." If their stay would not lead to their moral improvement, then they should be hurried away. Smith would love to attend the meeting that Tappan proposes as the "moral "the anti-slavery" influence of such a meeting could not fail to be great." He writes that he is glad Tappan speaks well of Mr. Slade and Mr. [Sherman M.] Booth. Smith had written to Joshua Leavitt to express his high opinion of the Reporter. Smith wishes that Tappan had formed a "simple committee" instead of a "new society" as he dislikes "the machinery of our Antislavery Societies" and that William Lloyd Garrison and the Old Society would not "have been so full of fight toward" a small committee as a "rival society." If the Emancipator becomes the organ of the new society, Smith hopes it will not advocate for "independent antislavery [nominations?].", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from G.P. Hollister to "Dear Sir"
A donation letter from Rice on behalf of various individuals pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H. Duffield to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from H. Duffield pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from [H. Warner] to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from [H. Warner] to Lewis Tappan pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.B. Stanton to Lewis Tappan and Joshua Leavitt
A letter from H.B. Stanton to Lewis Tappan and Joshua Leavitt suggesting Mr. Fletcher as a prospective lawyer to assist the Amistad Captives. The letter mentions Robert Rantoul Jr. writing to President Martin Van Buren regarding the captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.D. Gilpin to Lewis Tappan
H.D. Gilpin writes to Lewis Tappan that the "record in the case of the Amistad has not yet come up. As soon as it does, I shall see that it is printed and direct that the copies be sent you.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Henry Godfrey Wheeler to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Henry Godfrey Wheeler offering to provide a transcript of John Quincy Adams' argument before the Supreme Court for a fee of $500, but if a [illegible] should take place any day later than March 4, the fee will be $400. Wheeler writes that he will lose compensation for his services to the House of Representatives if the case begins on February 16 and if he is to report the argument for all the counsel, it would be lengthy and he asks the Committee to consider this and thus inform him if his services are needed. Joshua Leavitt appends a note stating that he, "dare not act upon this proposal alone," and that he and [Stansbury?] believe Wheeler's fee too high and Adams is expected to speak at length. Leavitt explains that Adams is "preparing for a great effort" and believes Francis Scott Key will not be heard in court. If he is, "it will be with but little reference to colonization." It is mentioned that Adams' reporter appeared in The Liberator., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Henry Green to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Henry Green acknowledging Lewis Tappan's letter from April 24 which asks him to go to New Haven "to attend the trial of the Africans." Given the receipt date of the letter, he is unable to attend and he states it "would have been a very great pleasure to come to assist the poor Africans" and hopes it will "not be long before they will all get their freedom.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.G. Ludlow to "My dear Br"
A letter stating that H.G. Ludlow has met with Marshal Norris Willcox to request more comfortable clothing for the Amistad Captives. Willcox refuses and Ludlow then states that the Captives are ill-clothed for the wintry climate, "[but] they are negroes -- and that is enough to exclude them from the claims of humanity." It is reported that another Captive has died and that the Captives have continued to attend worship., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.G. Ludlow to "My dear Br"
A letter stating that H.G. Ludlow has met with Marshal Norris Willcox to request more comfortable clothing for the Amistad Captives. Willcox refuses and Ludlow then states that the Captives are ill-clothed for the wintry climate, "[but] they are negroes -- and that is enough to exclude them from the claims of humanity." It is reported that another Captive has died and that the Captives have continued to attend worship., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.G. Ludlow to "My dear Br"
A letter stating that H.G. Ludlow has met with Marshal Norris Willcox to request more comfortable clothing for the Amistad Captives. Willcox refuses and Ludlow then states that the Captives are ill-clothed for the wintry climate, "[but] they are negroes -- and that is enough to exclude them from the claims of humanity." It is reported that another Captive has died and that the Captives have continued to attend worship., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.H. Kellogg to "Dear Brother"
H.H. Kellogg sends money for the Amistad Captives along with an issue of the American & Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter. He informs the recipient that he has contributed to the Captives' defense before but not to the American & Foreign Anti-slavery Society. Enclosed is a memorial to an un-named man intended for distribution by the recipient of the letter., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Hiram Pitts to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Hiram Pitts pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.L.W. to Lewis Tappan
A letter with list of questions to be obtained from the British commissioners in Havana, Cuba, regarding the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from H.P. Bogue to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from H.P. Bogue on behalf of his congregation pledging support for the Amistad Captives. Bogue hopes that "the best talent of the nation be brought into requisition for their defence.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Hunt & Johnson to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Hunt & Johnson pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Hunt Brothers to Lewis Tappan
Donation letter from the Hunt Brothers pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Hunt Brothers to Lewis Tappan
Donation letter from Hunt Brothers of New York pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from I.C. Baker to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Rice on behalf of Richard D. Bill pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org

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