Abolitionist Lewis Tappan

I arrived here last Friday evening, with three men who are natives of Africa, and who were joined the next day by two others, to act as interpreters in conversing with Joseph Cinquez and his comrades. On going to the jail, the next morning, we found to our great disappointment, that only one of the men, J. F. was able to converse with the prisoners. He is about 30 years of age, a native of Geshee or Gishe, which is about 100 or 150 miles from the mouth of the river Gallinas, in the interior, which is about a day’s journey south of Sierra Leone. He was kidnapped when about 12 years of age, and was liberated in Colombia, by Bolivar. He is able to converse a little in the Mandingo dialect, but understands better that of Gallinao, which some of the prisoners can speak. Most of the prisoners can understand him, although none of them can speak his Geshee dialect. You may imagine the joy manifested by these poor Africans, when they heard one of their own color address them in a friendly manner, and in a language they could comprehend!

The prisoners are in comfortable rooms.--They are well clothed in dark striped cotton trowsers, called by some of the manufacturers “hard times,” and in striped cotton shirts. The girls are in calico frocks, and have made the little shawls that were given them into turbans. The prisoners eyed the clothes some time, and laughed a good deal among themselves before they put them on. Their food is brought to them in separate tin pans, and they eat it in an orderly manner. In general, they are in good health. One of their number, however, died on Tuesday last, and two or three more are on the sick list and considered dangerous. They probably suffer for want of exercise in the open air. The four children are apparently from 10 to 12 years of age. The boy and two of the girls (who appeared to be sisters) are Mandingos, and the other girl is from Congo. They are robust, are full of hilarity, especially the Mandingos. The sheriff of the county took them to ride in a wagon on Friday. At first their eyes were filled with tears, and they seemed to be afraid, but soon they enjoyed themselves very well, and appeared to be greatly delighted. The children speak only their native dialects. Neither Cinquez nor any of his comrades have been manacled since they have been here. Their demeanor is altogether quiet, kind, and orderly.

Most of the prisoners told the interpreter that they are from Mandingo. The district of Mandingo, in the Senegambia country, is bounded by the Atlantic Ocean, and is directly north of Liberia. Two or three of the men, besides one of the little girls, are natives of Congo, which is on the coast just south of the equator. The man with some of his teeth like tusks, is from Gahula in Congo. The teeth are said to be sharpened and made thus prominent by artificial means. One of the men from Mandingo, named Dama, talks Mandingo, and is a good looking and intelligent man. Cinquez is about 5 feet 8 inches high, of fine proportions, with a noble air. Indeed, the whole company, although thin in flesh, and generally of slight forms, and limbs, especially, are as good looking and intelligent a body of men as we usually meet with. All are young, and several are quite striplings. The Mandingos are described in books as being a very gentle race, cheerful in their dispositions, inquisitive, credulous, simple hearted, and much given to trading propensities. The Mandingo dialects are spoken extensively, and it is said to be the commercial language of nearly the whole coast of West Africa. We found that the following words are nearly the same in the Gallinas of the interpreter, in the Mandingo of the prisoners, in the Mandingo of Mungo Park, and in Jallowka of the German author Adeburg, viz: --Sun, moon, woman, child, father, head, hand, and foot. The numerals do not agree so well. If any person, who reads this statement, can furnish the Committee information concerning the Mandingo language, and its different dialects, particularly for vocabularies, they may render important service in the future examination of these unfortunate Africans. Professor Gibbs, of Yale College, has Adeburg’s Mithridates, Park’s Travels, and Mollien’s Travels in Africa, and Professor Silliman has Prichard’s Physical History of Mankind, which are at the service of the Committee.

Senegambia extends 800 miles in length, and where widest is about 700 miles. It is inhabited by different tribes, all negroes, living under petty sovereigns. Among these nations, the Foulahs, Jalcops, and Mandingoes, are the most numerous. Others less prominent are the Feloops, Naloes, Pagoes, Susoos, Timmancis, &c. The Foulahs are Mahomedans . The Mandingoes are the most numerous people of this region. These are partly Mahomedans and partly Pagans. Their original country is Manding, of which the government is said to be a species of republicanism. Nearly all the prisoners appear to be people of this description. The physician says they have nearly all been circumcised. No person will be able to converse with them well until he can speak the dialect of Manding. Persons, however, born on the Gallinas river may be able to converse with some of them. Although there are many native Africans in New York, and some of them came probably from places not remote from the native places of most of these prisoners, yet it is difficult to find an interpreter who can converse with them readily and intelligently. The tribes in Africa are very numerous, almost every tribe has a distinct language, and it often varies, it is said, from village to village.

After conversing awhile, through the interpreter with the men, who are in three different rooms, and with the four children, who are in a room by themselves, we went to the door of the room where Joseph Cinquez is confined: He is with several savage looking fellows, black and white, who are in jail on various charges. Visitors are not allowed to enter this strong hold of the jail, and the inmates can only be seen and conversed with through the aperture of the door. The jailer is fearful that some of them would escape if the door was opened in frequently. Even the other African prisoners are not permitted to hold converse with their Chief. Before they and he were deprived of this privilege, and when he occasionally came among them, they gathered around him, all talking at once, and shaking hands, as if they rejoiced to see him among them. They appeared to look up to him, I am told, with great respect. We found Cinquez stretched upon his bedding on the floor, wholly unclothed, with a single blanket partly wrapped around him. He arose at the call of the jailer, rather reluctantly, and came towards us with a good degree of gracefulness and native dignity. Afterwards we saw him well clothed; but he does not seem to like the tight dress of this country. At first he seemed adverse to answering the questions of the interpreter, and made the impression that he could not speak the Mandingo dialect. But after the interpreter had told him that he had conversed freely with his comrades, he conversed very freely, and with much energy of expression and action. R. S. Baldwin, Esq., of counsel for the prisoners, and Professor Gibbs having accompanied the interpreter.

Joseph Cinquez, as the Spaniards have named him, but who pronounces his name in his own language, Shinquau, says he is a native of the Mandingo country. His father is neither a king nor a chief, but one of the principal men. Shinquau was kidnapped and sent down to the town of Gendema or Geduma, in the Gallina country. The interpreter knows the place, says it is from ten to fifteen miles from the ocean. It is a small town on an inconsiderable river. Here he was put into the hands of King Sharka, and after staying a while was delivered by this king “to a great man” named Fulekower, belonging to Manu, near the mouth of the river Gambia , who disposed of him to the Spaniards. By them he was sent on board a ship, where he met, for the first time, the persons who are now with him in prison. From Shinquau and his comrades we gathered the following statements, nearly in their very words, as translated by the interpreter:--They demanded of the slavers where they were going to take them, but got no satisfactory answer. In one and a half moons, they said, we arrived at Havana. Here they were put ashore, and confined one moon in a house very close. Then they were put on board the schooner which brought them to this country, and continued on board of her about one moon or a month. After being on board the schooner sometime, they agreed to take the schooner and go back to their own country. Previous to this the Captain was very cruel and beat them severely. They would not take it, to use their own expression, and therefore turned to and fought for it. After this they did not know which way to go. But at length they told the Spaniards to take them to Sierra Leone. “They made fools of us,” said Shinquau, “and did not go to Sierra Leone.” In the day time, they said they could tell very well which way to go by the sun, but at night the Spaniards deceived them, and put the vessel the other way. After this said they, we got here, and did not know where we were.

Captain Green, of Sag Harbor, who was one of the first men the prisoner met ashore, before their capture by Lieut. Gedney, of the U.S. brig Washington, and who has given me a circumstantial account, differing in many respects from what has been published, of all that took place, says that the Africans asked him, by one of their number who speaks a little broken English, “What country is this?” He replied, this is America. They immediately asked, “Is it a slave country?” Captain Green answered, it is free here, and safe, and there are no Spanish laws here. Shinquau then gave a sort of whistle, when they all sprang upon their feet and shouted. Captain Green and his associates sprang to their wagon for their guns, supposing the Africans were about to attack them. But Shinquau came up, delivered his cutlass and gun, and even offered his hat, &c, and the rest did the same, indicating that they would give all up, that Capt. G. might take charge of the schooner and everything on board. They however begged of him to take them to Sierre Leone. Shinquau positively assured Capt. G. at the time, and he repeats it now, that they threw nothing overboard. The stories about his loosening his girdle, and letting three or four hundred doubloons drop into the sea, and of diving and keeping under water forty minutes, are considered fabulous. The Africans assert that there was a quantity of doubloons in the trunks that were carried on shore on Long Island, and Captain Green says he heard the money rattle as the trunks were returned to the schooner by order of Lieut. Gedney. On examining the contents of the trunks afterwards no gold was found! Some person, or persons, are supposed to have the money, but who, is a secret.. While on shore, at Long Island, Shinquau and his companions, although hungry, and with arms in their hands, would not kill a single animal, or take an article even to satisfy their hunger, without paying generously for it. They appeared, it is true, to know very little about the value of money, and gave a doubloon for a dog, and a small gold piece for some victuals.

The African prisoners are orderly and peaceable among themselves. Some of them sing well, and appear to be in good spirits and grateful for the kindness shown them. Col. Stanton Pendleton, at whose house I stop, is the jailer, and is kind and attentive to the prisoners. He provides them wholesome food in sufficient quantities, and gives every reasonable indulgence to the numerous visitors, from the neighboring towns and elsewhere, who throng the prison continually to see these interesting strangers from a distant land. Col. P. has allowed me to take copies of the warrants of commitment. The little girls, and the negro boy, Antonio, are committed as witnesses, “for neglecting to become recognized to the United States with surety,” and Shinquau and his comrades are bound over “for murder on the high seas.”

I have read an ingenious and well written article in the Evening Post signed Veto, in which the learned writer presents a pretty full examination of the case of the schooner Amistad. He says that it seems but too probable that the slave holders, Messrs. Ruez and Montez, conscious of the invalidity of their claim in the Civil Courts, have drawn this criminal prosecution (the charge of murder) to give time to their government to make a demand: and he rather singularly says “ this raises a far more difficult question. ” If Veto will turn to Niles’ Register for 1823, he will find an elegantly written and very able opinion of Chief Justice Tilghman, of Pa., on this subject, in which that eminent jurist, in giving his own judgment against the claim of a foreign government in the case of a fugitive charged with treason or murder, where there exists no treaty stipulation, as there does not at present between the United States and Spain, refers also to the corroborative opinions of all the preceding Presidents of the United States, (with the exception of the elder Adams, who had not given an opinion) very clearly and satisfactorily shows that the government of this country ought not to surrender persons situated as are Joseph Shinquau and his unfortunate countrymen, who are, by the act of God, thrown upon these shores to find, I trust, that protection and relief of which they had been, probably, forever deprived had it not been for this remarkable and providential interposition.
I remain, very truly, yours,

P. S. Sabbath evening. The Rev. H. G. Ludlow prayed for the poor Africans this forenoon, very feelingly, at the service in his church. The outer door of the jail was closed today, and visitors generally were not admitted. I distributed some religious tracts, in the morning, to the convicts, and attempted to instruct the African prisoners, especially the children. They pronounce words in English very distinctly, and have already nearly the numerals. In showing them some books containing pictures of tropical animals, birds, &c., they seemed much pleased to recognize those with whose appearance they were acquainted, endeavoring to imitate their voices and actions. With suitable instruction these intelligent and docile Africans would soon learn to read and speak our language, and I cannot but hope that some of the benevolent inhabitants of this city will diligently continue to improve the opportunity to impart instruction to these pagans, brought by the providence of God to their very doors. Towards evening we made a visit to Shinquau, and conversed with him a considerable time. He drew his hand across his throat, as his room mates said he had done frequently before, and asked whether the people here intended to kill him. He was assured that probably no harm would happen to him--that we were his friends--and that he would be sent across the ocean towards the rising sun, home to his friends. His countenance immediately lost the anxious and distressed expression it had before, and beamed with joy. He says he was born about two days travelling from the ocean; that he purchased some goods, and being unable to pay for only two thirds of the amount, he was seized by the traders, his own countrymen, and sold to king Sharka for the remaining third. “I dont tell a bit of a lie about it,” he said.--He says he left in Africa both his parents, a wife and three children. Two of the children, he remarked, are a little larger than the African girls who are prisoners, and the other about as large. We endeavored to ascertain what his ideas were about a Supreme Being, if he had any. He said, “God is good.” His countrymen, he says, know nothing about reading or writing. Tomorrow we expect to have him taken out of his cell, and examined, through the interpreter, by Messrs. Staples and Baldwin. L. T.


Dear Friend Mr. Adams,

I want to write a letter to you because you love Mendi people and you talk to the Great Court. Want to tell you one thing. Jose Ruiz say we born in havanna, he tell lie . . . we all born in Mendi--we no understand Spanish language . . . we want you to ask the court what we have done wrong. What for Americans keep us in prison. Some people say Mendi people crazy dolts because we no talk American language. Americans no talk Mendi. American people crazy dolts? They tell bad things about Mendi people and we no understand. . . . Dear friend Mr. Adams you have children and friends you love them you feel very sorry if Mendi people come and take all to Africa. . . .


. . . Judge Judson say you be free, but Government say No . . . If man have knife and come to American people and say I kill I eat what America people do? . . . Dear friend Mr. Adams we love you very much we ask we beg you to tell court let Mendi people be free. . . .


Dear Sir:

We have reached Sierra Leone and one little while after we go Mendi and we get land very safely. Oh dear friend, pray to God. God will hear your prayer. We will pray for you; and God is very great, very good and kind. We have been on great water. Not any danger fell upon us. Oh, no. We never forget glorious God for these great blessings. How joyful we shall be. I never forget you. May God be blessed. Our blessed saviour Jesus Christ have done wondrous works. Dear Mr. Tappan, how I feel for these wondrous things. I pray Jesus will hear you; if I never see you in this world, we will meet in heaven.

Your true friend,