Saturday, September 1, 2018

Amistad Marker in New London

This past Wednesday, August 29th, was the 179th anniversary of the Amistad's capture by the U.S. Coast Guard. I meant to post these photographs right after I returned from Mystic, but life got a little complicated and I ended up in Houston. There is no Douglass connection to Houston except perhaps his brother's brief time in Millican, which is northeast of the city; but I've covered that. That meant catching up, and the semester started, and blah blah blah excuses. So, here we are, pictures about the Amistad from New London. 

The Custom House, where the U.S. Coast Guard first brought the Amistad  and the rebels.
The Thames River and the New London docks lie just beyond the railroad tracks, behind it. 
Up the river you can find the Coast Guard Academy. The Custom House is now a museum.

Marker to the rebels featuring Cinque. The text says:

ON THIS SITE, August 29, 1839 ---
A federal investigative inquiry indicted 38 enslaved Mende Africans accused
of revolt on the high seas and murder of the captain and cook of the Spanish 
slave ship Amistad which was captured and brought into New London by U.S.
Revenue Cutter Washington. Lt. Gedney commanding.

This first step to Freedom revealed resources which ultimately through trials
in Hartford and New Haven, and an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court by former
President John Quincy Adams, won their liberty as persons to return home by
missionary ship to Sierra Leone in 1841.

Thames River Waves lapped against the white-striped low black hull of Amistad
for 14 months until it was refurbished and sold for salvage nearby at Joseph 
Lawrence's dock. The cargo of silks, satins, and other treasures were auctioned
off at this custom house on these front steps.

Amistad had unjustly held leader Joseph Cinque and his people as slaves in 
its hold before it became the vehicle for their passage to freedom. Never
before, or since, has there been record of such freedom won.

Lucille M. Showalter -- The Day.

On the wall, to the side of the entrance to the Custom House, 
you also find a marker to another, later claim of freedom:


On this site, September 30, 1859, Police Court Judge
Augustus H. Brandegee and Customs Collector John
 Perkins Mather freed a stowaway slave known as "Joe"
by applying Connecticut's Personal Liberty Law
against the federal Fugitive Slave Act, Judge Brandegee
asked the stowaway, "Do you want to be slave or free?'
The slave replied, "Free!"

This plaque was erected to celebrate the blessings of freedom
The Day
February 24, 1991

Learn more about the Amistad rebellion from Marcus Rediker's The Amistad Rebellion: An Atlantic Odyssey of Slavery and Rebellion.

By the way, the organizations formed to aid the defense of the rebels eventually became the American Missionary Association. During the Civil War, before the formation of the Freedman's Bureau but after Emancipation, the AMA was one of the largest organizations to mobilize to meet the basic needs of the formerly enslaved who had become displaced by the conditions of war. Among the first teachers were Helen Pitts and Edmonia Highgate.

Helen Pitts, of course, later became the second Mrs. Frederick Douglass. Edmonia Highgate was a friend of the Douglasses' children and of Jermain Loguen's children. As with Pitts, working in the conditions of Norfolk, Virginia, made her very ill both physically and from what was likely traumatic shock. She returned to Syracuse for a break, during which time Douglass made sure that she testafied about the conditions of the freedpeople to the 1864 "Colored Men's Convention," as they set an agenda for Reconstruction. When she recovered, she returned South to continue her work. She's buried here in Syracuse.

1844 - 1870

She devoted the labors of her brief
life to educating the freed slaves
in the South and her eloquence
enlightened the North to their plight.

For how inspiring the thought that 
these dear souls are "Forever Free."

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