The Specters of the Amistad
Ghosts of New Haven Blog 5 The Specters of the Amistad © 2017 by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg, Ghost with a Blog # Ghost
A group of Africans were stolen from their homeland to be sold as slaves. They survived the middle passage. The slave ship evaded the international anti-slavery patrols because by that time the international slave trade was illegal. They were then landed in the Spanish colony Cuba where they were broken in as slaves to work on the sugar plantations.
The slavers finally decided to take their profits by selling their new slaves by shipping them to another part of Cuba where they were in demand. However, they made a fatal mistake. They put the same group together on the ship instead of trying to scatter them into other groups to break the solidarity. The Mendians succeeded in taking control of the ship, killed the captain, let some of the sailors escape, but kept those that knew how to navigate to steer the ship home to Africa.
Unfortunately, the Mendians did not realize although they were sailing toward Africa during the day, the crew was sailing them back to slavery. The ship landed on the north shore of Long Island. To the surprise of the crew and the owners, the human cargo was viewed as heroes and they the villains.
The issue that came before the US Supreme Court was that could free men reduced to slavery reclaim their rights as free men instead of remaining slaves. Roger Sherman Baldwin, descendant of the Founding Father whose name he bore, argued the case before Federal District Court in New Haven. Then John Quincy Adams, former US President, presented the final arguments before the US Supreme Court which ruled in their favor.
The Mendians were free to go home! They had numbered 53 when they first landed in New Haven in 1839 but only 35 survived the winter and illness to return in 1842. In the African tradition, the living and the dead could enjoy this moment. Spectators came to see the Mendians when they were brought out to exercise on the Green and paid 12 and half cents to view them in the jail where the memorial now stands. The Mendians have departed but not their tears of joy. Every so often, a ghostly version of the Amistad can be spotted in the harbor of New Haven.