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Estimate: $ 10,000 - $ 15,000
(AMISTAD CAPTIVES.) BARBER, JOHN W. A History of the Amistad Captives: Being a Circumstantial Account of the Capture of the Spanish Schooner Amistad. Large 18-1/2 inch fold-out frontispiece, small map, and additional illustrations including 38 engraved profiles of the captives. 32 pages. 8vo, original drab wrappers bound in later red morocco-backed marbled paper-covered boards; spine with simple gilt rules at top and bottom; frontispiece backed with archival paper; some foxing throughout. New Haven: Published by E.L. & J.W. Barber, 1840
the rare first edition of this account with a fine example of the frontispiece, often lacking. In July of 1839, a group of West African Mende captives bound for Cuba took control of the vessel in what would become the most famous slave ship insurrection in U.S. history. The Africans, under the leadership of Cinque and Grabeau, ordered the first mate to turn the ship around and make for Africa; instead the mate took the schooner on a meandering course that finally brought them to the coast of Long Island. The Captives were charged with murdering the captain and were jailed in New Haven. Word spread quickly among abolitionists and a defense committee was hastily assembled. Ex-President John Quincy Adams came out of retirement to lead the defense, together with Connecticut attorney Roger Baldwin. The basis of the defense was that the Africans had been illegally taken from Africa after the 1807 ban. The Spanish owners, Montes and Ruiz, claimed that the Africans were already slaves and were simply being moved from one Spanish possession to another. Not one of the 39 captives spoke a word of Spanish or English---as one would presume if this were true. Adams and Baldwin managed to find a seaman who was a Mende tribesman from Sierra Leone who could translate for the Africans and so the full story of their capture came out. On 13 January, 1840 the lower court declared that the captives had been "born free," and kidnapped. To appease the Spanish, however, the administration of President Van Buren sent the case to the Supreme Court, where Adams and Baldwin again prevailed. On 9 March, 1841, Justice Story, speaking for the Court, declared again that the Africans had indeed been kidnapped. And so, after nearly two years, the Amistad Captives were freed.