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 James Floy to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from James Floy to Lewis Tappan pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from James Gregory to "Gentlen" [Simeon S. Jocelyn and Joshua Leavitt]
A letter from James Gregory reporting of a slave ship that was captured off the coast of Madagascar following William Wilberforce's efforts and passing of An Act for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in 1807 by the British House of Parliament. The letter offers the opinion that Amistad Captives should be granted liberty., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from James N. Buffum Lynn to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from James N. Buffum on behalf of other individuals pledging support for the Amistad Captives, reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from James Thomson to "Dear Sir"
A letter from James Thomson to Lewis Tappan mentioning his work as an agent of the British and Foreign Bible Society. Included in the letter is a copy of the Spanish law against the slave trade that he acquired in Cuba in 1837. The law states that "all Africans touching any part of the Spanish dominions in the West Indies shall be by the very act free in every sense." Thompson offers to furnish a copy., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from James Thomson to "Dear Sir"
A letter in which James Thomson sends two extracts of Spanish laws concerning slavery and asks that a newspaper account of proceedings of the Amistad Captives' case be sent to him in Montreal., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from Jane Knapp to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Jane Knapp, secretary of the Female Anti-Slavery Society in Newburyport, Massachusetts, pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from J.B. Johnston to Lewis Tappan
A letter from J.B. Johnston informing Lewis Tappan that he has received the December 1840 issue of the American and Foreign Anti-Slavery Reporter Extra and is moved to donate ten dollars in support of the Amistad Captives. Johnston describes the event reported in the newspaper as "truly shocking" and writes, "I have long thought Van Buren and his Cabinet and indeed most of the public function [illegible] throughout the length and breadth of our land, to be influenced by a mean servility to Southern slavery -- the documents referred to in the Extra puts the fact beyond doubt.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from J.C. Webster to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from J.C. Webster pledging his support for the Amistad Captives. The money sent by Webster was "contributed by an association of children in my own parish, which they wish appropriated to the instruction of the Amistad Captives." Webster suggests that more money may be raised if "a little account of them [the captives] could be published for the use of children & indeed for many older persons who know nothing of their history.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from J.G. Duryee to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from J.G. Duryee to Lewis Tappan on behalf of various individuals pledging support for the Amistad Captives. Duryee writes that the donors request an account of the Supreme Court trial if published. He explains that he has presented an account of the case several times in Andover, claiming that there is much interest in that region., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from J.H. Henry to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from Brisbane on behalf of a Mr. Templeton pledging support for the Amistad Captives. A portion of the money is to be forwarded to the editor of The Youth's Cabinet for a subscription., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John A. Rollo to Lewis Tappan
A letter expressing John A. Rollo's "deep interest for the Coloured people generally and a special concern for the Captives of the Amistad," and asking for information regarding the Captives, their counsel, and costs of assisting them. Rollo volunteers to assist in raising funds in his area., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John A. Rollo to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from John A. Rollo pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John C. Gore to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from John C. Gore to Lewis Tappan pledging support for the Amistad Captives., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John Dougall to Joshua Leavitt
A letter from John Dougall to Joshua Leavitt informing him that Antonio arrived "two or three days ago and is consequently beyond the reach of all the slaveholders in the world." According to the letter, Antonio is under the employment of Dougall, who will endeavor to educate him as "the Spanish Consul forbade him to be educated with the other captives." Dougall describes Antonio as a pleasant good natured lad" but that his ideas are very limited "for instance, he asks if England be going to war with New Haven? and which is strongest?" He states that he hopes the Lord "may direct your councils in the approaching convention which is to nominate a candidate for the Presidency who shall be actuated by the true principles of liberty and democracy.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John Forsyth to Lewis Tappan
As Secretary of State, John Forsyth states "that the President sees no reason to change the directions given to the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, in a communication from this Department on the 30th April last.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John Forsyth to Lewis Tappan
A letter from John Forsyth in regards to Lewis Tappan's letter to the President which had been referred to the Department of State with directions to inform him that the President directs copies of "any documents of the character described by you" be delivered to the Amistad Captives' counsel. As to why "this direction was not complied with" previously, the President "found reason to question his authority to interfere, in that form, with the proceedings of the Court." Communication [not enclosed] was made to the District Attorney of Connecticut [William S. Holabird] which directs all that the President felt authorized to do. As this communication to W.S. Holabird may not have reached him, a copy was resent., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John Forsyth to W.S. Holabird Connecticut
A letter from John Forsyth acknowledging the receipt of the application by the counsel for the Africans to admit as evidence to the Circuit Court: "the decree of the king of Spain of 1817, the ordinance of the Queen of the 2nd Nov 1838, and the treaty between Spain and Great Britain of 1817." Forsyth writes that the President is of the opinion that "he has no right whatever to interpose in the manner desired of him" and sees no reason to deny such application provided the counsel for the Africans extend the same admissions of evidence to W. S. Holabird., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John Harfield Tredgold to John Quincy Adams
A letter to John Quincy Adams written by J.H. Tredgold on behalf of the British and Foreign Anti-Slavery Society. In his letter, Tredgold encloses publications from the Society to Adams. The Society expresses its appreciation to Adams for the "valuable and important services you have on various occasions rendered to the cause of human liberty and happiness" and his "patriotic and benevolent exertions which have uniformly marked your public and private character." The Society rejoices at the steady increase of abolitionism in the United States and "hope that the day is not far distant when the curse and stain of slavery may be forever removed from your enlightened country.", reference@amistadresearchcenter.org
Letter from John Jay to Lewis Tappan
A donation letter from John Jay pledging support for the Amistad Captives on behalf of two anonymous donors., reference@amistadresearchcenter.org

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