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 Josiah Brewer to Simeon S. Jocelyn
A letter from Josiah Brewer informing Simeon S. Jocelyn that he cannot meet with him today, but sends this letter instead. Brewer makes two propositions to the Amistad Committee and to the Anti-Slavery Committee, both of which seek to "aid in taking care of and restoring the Amistad Africans to their native land, & after that to act as an agent or secretary for meliorating the condition of the Anglo-Africans in this country." Brewer states that he is willing to move to Farmington to devote himself to the care of the Africans and raise funds if the Amistad Committee cannot. He may be willing to accompany the Africans to the coast of Africa, but would have to consider his family before deciding. Brewer writes that he and his wife would accept the three girls into their home and that one of Brewer's students, Miss Faulkner of Andover, may also be persuaded to join the family in instructing the girls. Brewer would also consider moving to the vicinity of New York. He mentions his experience "as a teacher of Indians, African Americans, Europeans, Greeks, Turks, et.," mentioning a recent discussion with "gentlemen of the Anti-Slavery Committee." Brewer points to the February and forthcoming issues of the Charter Oak newspaper for examples of his views on anti-slavery and describes the Committee's work as dividing itself into "opposition to the slavery of physical force, and of public sentiment or caste" and understands from some of the Committee they have not been as successful in the latter. Brewer currently has a congregation of "some 200 heathens, more than a fifth of them unhappily colored.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Josiah Hutchman to Simeon S. Jocelyn, Joshua Leavitt, and Lewis Tappan
Josiah Hutchman reports in his letter that The Beaver County [Pennsylvania] Anti-Slavery Society resolved at a January 1841 meeting to "educate a colored boy" and that a committee was appointed to carry out the resolution. He writes to Simeon S. Jocelyn, Joshua Levitt, and Lewis Tappan that the Committee asks, along with other questions, whether the Society can have "the privilege of applying our funds to the support of one of the younger class of the [Amistad] captives." Hutchman then explains that the Society does not wish to separate one of the children nor remove him from the Amistad Committee's care but "our object is simply to support one particular one and to know which one that is.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Julius Pratt to Lewis Tappan
Donation letter from Julius Pratt on behalf of the Friends of the Slave in Meriden, Connecticut, pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Julius Pratt to Lewis Tappan
Donation letter from Julius Pratt on behalf of the Friends of the Slave in Meriden, Connecticut, pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from J.W. Alden to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from J.W. Alden to Lewis Tappan on behalf of "the house of H. Benton" pledging support for the Amistad Captives, reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from J.W. Alden to Lewis Tappan
A letter from J.W. Alden to Lewis Tappan with an enclosed payment of eight dollars for twelve portraits of Cinque., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Kale to Lewis Tappan
Transcription: Dear Sir Mr Tappan, I will write you a few lines my friend I am began to write you a letter my Dear Sir I am going to write you a letter my friend I want you tell your friends I give him my God love Mr Tappan I want you tell your friends my good loves my Dear friend I am very well to write you a letter my friend I thanks you a plenty because you send me letter and I thank you for it and I want pray for you every evening and every night and every morning by day and by night and his always my friend I want you give me a cap and I thank you a plenty my friend I give you a good loves Dear Sir I am very glad this morning to write you a letter my Dear Sir I want tell you some thing when we in Havana vessel we have no water to drink when we eat rice white man no give us to drink when sun set white men give us little water when we in Havana vessel white men give rice to all who no eat fast he take whip you plenty of them died and Havana men tak them put in water my friend I am stop writing your letter my name Kale I am your friend I give you this letter, reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Kale to Lewis Tappan
Transcription: Westville Sept, Mr Tappan, I going write you letter I want tell you some thing I bless you because I love you want pray for you every night and every morning and evening and I want love you too much I will write letter for my friend Mr Tappan I bless you because I love you and I love write you letter my friend I want love all teachers who teach me and all my people good things about Jesus Christ and God and heaven and every things I bless them that teach me good I pray for them I want write some thing for you from that time Jesus began to preach and to say repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand my friend I write this paper for you because I love you too much I pray for you Lords pray Our father who art in heaven hallowed be thy name thy Kingdom Come thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven give us this day our daily bread And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever Amen O God keep all my teachers and all my friend and all my enemy that no love me all I love them I try to write letter of paper for Mr Tappan and Jesus said unto him foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests but the son of man hath not where to lay his head and Jesus said unto him no man having put his hand to the plough and looking back is for the kingdom of God"nMy name Kale I send you letter by James Birney., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Kinna to Lewis Tappan
Transcription in unknown hand of a letter from Kinna to Lewis Tappan., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Kinna to Lewis Tappan
Transcription: My Dear friend Tappan -- I embrace this opportunity of writing a few line to you to inform you that I am well and when this come to your hand and I hope that it may find you in good health and I am very glad of it your writing to sent to us and I will to sent you a letter and tuesday night I must write you a letter and when we come [illegible] to new york to see you and all your children we ready [illegible] of it to see your children and to see you and all dear friends and come their and we will read and we will to sing for our dear friends come down new york and I love you very much I will to pray for you and I [illegible] two weeks in must come down their and to see our dear friends and I love them very much more than [illegible] I love them and I thought some of them will to sing I will sing [illegible] and we will sing for you and all the people must here us and we will to [illegible] for them and my dear friend Mr Tappan please gave me book and when I come down new york to see you and you must gave me book in their if you please and I think you must will to give me and I will to pray for you I love you very much indeed and Mr Williams is very good man and he love menda people and we [illegible] him too and this town we live in and beautiful place and good friends and in this are they love us and comforted and [illegible] and plenty eats and My dear friend I love you very much this from your friend -- Kinna., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Kinna to Lewis Tappan
Transcription: Dear friend -- Mr Tappan -- I embrace this opportunity of writing a few lines to you to inform you that I am well and when this come to your hand and I hope that it may find you in good health and you were hear yesterday to [illegible] the menda people and we will answer you this morning and you love menda people very much and but if you [illegible] want them stay hear a one year and we will stay one year and we rather go home now and we are all free men and dear friend but if you [illegible] want them and we will because you pay for them great deal dollar and thousands dollars you may pay great deal dollar you pay for them to make us free and we all thank you very much and dear friend you came hear yesterday to ask them rather we go and I must tell you this and we ask you and you say I want all menda people stay hear one year & menda people ask you one thing if we stay hear who take care of them who give them good things and we are very poor need an you willing to take care of them and who willing to give them a good things and I love you very much indeed and this from your friend -- Kinna., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Kinna to Lewis Tappan
Transcription: My dear Friend -- Mr L. Tappan -- I embrace this opportunity of writing a few lines to you to inform you that I am well and when this come to your hand and I hope that it may find you in good health and yesterday our Judge set little girls free and Cinque was very glad and all the [illegible]and we has joyful gladness to see the Africa little girls face and we are thankful and yesterday had men surrounded you and Mr [illegible] and they wanted hurt you yesterday I am sorry for it that dear friend and pray for them those who hurt you and God did not let hurt & not one girls has free girls now one we all menda people has thank you very much and I hope great God will to bless you and keep you those who want hurt you and my dear friend I pray for you I love you very much and we pray to god and God will have mercy upon in your heart and menda people thank you very much and if you love Christ and Christ will to you a new heart and you has give them a good things and I love you very much indeed I pray for you and dear friend you children been ell now and I am sorry to hear your children has sick I hope you will try make them get well and good will have mercy upon them and menda people give much good love to you and all your families and I love you very much and this is From your Friend -- Kinna., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from L. Russell to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from L. Russell to Lewis Tappan pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from L.A. Spalding to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter to Lewis Tappan from L.A. Spalding on behalf of various individuals and collected by Ednah D. Smith pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Leonard Bacon to Lewis Tappan
A letter from Leonard Bacon acknowledging Tappan's letter from April 15 stating that he is unavailable to speak at an upcoming meeting and exhibition of the Africans., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Leonard Chase to Lewis Tappan
Leonard Chase writes in his letter to Lewis Tappan that he has obtained the name of the young lady "who took such lively interest in the Mendians at Nashua [New Hampshire]. Her name is Sarah Spaulding." Chase mentions that he would appreciate news about the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Lewis A. Wickes to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Lewis A. Wickes to Lewis Tappan on behalf of himself and Orson White of Richville pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Lewis Tappan and Simeon S. Jocelyn to Daniel Burgess
Lewis Tappan and Simeon S. Jocelyn write to Daniel Burgess with an enclosed letter to John T. Norton [not present] asking that it be forwarded to him. Burgess is instructed to have Norton or Samuel Demming (if Norton is absent) call on Mr. A.F. Williams. Both Tappan and Jocelyn express their hope that Dr. Hawes and Governor William W. Ellsworth "will be called into the consultation" with Thomas Fessenden., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Lewis Tappan and Simeon S. Jocelyn to John T. Norton
A letter from Lewis Tappan and Simeon S. Jocelyn directing John T. Norton to meet Thomas Fessenden of New York at the City Hotel in Hartford, Connecticut. The letter states that "we are greatly apprehensive that the Supreme Court will decide against the Africans" and the President will remove the Africans "out of the reach of philanthropy," but that Roger S. Baldwin, remains confident of success. Tappan relates the Committee's opinion that "a serious consultation" regarding an application for a writ of habeas corpus. Tappan feels a Connecticut judge may be reluctant to interfere following the Supreme Court case and Fessenden is highly respected and familiar with the case and has been employed at considerable expense. Tappan advises that the names of those meeting with Fessenden be kept private except Norton's., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org

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