The Slave Ship Rebellion

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Long and low and black-hulled, the schooner beat along the Cuban coast in the black and starless night. The moon at midnight tried to break through the pall of the clouds, but was blotted from the rim of the featureless horizon by a drenching smother of rain. The schooner pitched and bucked in head winds and seas, discomfort in her after cabin where two wealthy Cuban planters slept fitfully, despair and desperation in the cramped hold where 53 Negro slaves were chained by neck and hands and feet. A hell ship, she was ironically named the Amistad, Spanish for friendship.

For four days the Amistad had been at sea on what normally should have been a two-day, 300-mile voyage from Havana to Puerto Principe. But nothing had gone normally, and on this night of July 1-2, 1839, mutiny and murder brewed. Through choppy seas the Amistad sailed into history. She was about to become a cause célèbre that would pit President against President, government against government, and that would affect the lives and education of American Negroes down to our own time.

In the hold of the Amistad on this night of storm, the slaves engaged in silent and desperate struggle. They had been kidnapped only recently from their homes in the Mendi country of Sierra Leone; they had survived the horrors of the middle passage, chained in a four-loot-high hold where they could never more than half stand, packed together so closely that the sweat of one mingled with the sweat of another. They had been spirited at night through the streets of Havana; they had been placed in a barracoon, examined from toes to teeth like cattle, and sold.

Even these experiences had not prepared them for the brutal foretaste of doom that had been theirs on the Amistad . When they were let above decks during the day, one of the slaves had helped himself to a dipperful of water. For this egregious offense, he had been lashed until his back streamed blood; then vinegar and gunpowder had been rubbed into the raw flesh, capping punishment with excruciating agony.

This savage treatment shocked all the Africans and filled them with apprehension. Where were they being taken? What was to be their fate? By gestures, they managed to ask the questions of the ship’s cook, a mulatto named Celestino. And the cook, in ghoulish and ill-timed jest, grinned malevolently at them, drew a hand across his throat, and pointed with huge relish to his bubbling pot, giving them to understand they were to be eaten. This prospective fate as the pièce de résistance at a cannibal board “made their hearts burn,” the slaves said later, and so they listened, in the dark hold of the pitching Amistad, to the impassioned urgings of their leader.

He was, by any standards, a remarkable man. Cinquè was his name. He stood about five feet ten inches, and he possessed the powerful torso, the sinewy arms and legs, of a fine athlete. His forehead was high, the eyes wide-spaced and intelligent; his carriage was erect, his bearing proud, for he was the son of a chief.

Using the technique of a born leader, Cinquè drove his followers to despair, and then held out to them a glowing hope. Did they want to die under the lash? Did they want to be eaten by the white men? When they moaned in misery and despair, he offered them the remedy: break the chains that held them; kill the white men; sail the ship back to their homes in Africa.

Cinquè’s exhortations whipped the slaves to frenzied action. The first barrier to their freedom was the long, heavy chain that passed from neck to neck and held them all together. It was fastened at the end only by a padlock. The slaves struggled with the lock, and with Cinquè exerting all of his tremendous strength, they finally managed to pry it open, to throw the hampering neck chain aside. One by one, the other chains followed until finally all of the slaves stood free of their shackles.

Their next need was to arm themselves, and in the nearby cargo hold of the Amistad they found what they wanted—several bales of sugar-cane knives. These were terrifying weapons. The handles were square bars of steel an inch thick, and the blades were two feet long, razor sharp, widening by regular gradation to a maximum width of three inches at the end. In the brawny hands of the aroused slaves, these machetes became deadly, hand-wielded guillotines.

The nightlong stirrings of revolt in the slave hold went undetected by the whites on the Amistad. They had no premonition of disaster when, between three and four o’clock in the morning, Cinquè led a horde of softly padding followers above decks in a final bid for freedom. On deck were Captain Ramon Ferrer; a mulatto cabin boy named Antonio Gonzales, a slave of the Captain’s; Celestino, the cook, snoozing in the shelter of his galley; and two sailors, Manuel Pagilla and a man known only as Jacinto. In the after cabin were the two Cuban planters: Don José Ruiz, who had purchased 49 of the slaves for $450 each at the Havana barracoon, and Don Pedro Montez, who owned the other four slaves aboard, three small girls and a boy.

Creeping stealthily along the dark deck, Cinquè led his band to the galley where Celestino slept, unaware that his cruel jest about the cannibal pot was about to breed bloody retribution. Cinquè himself sprang upon the sleeping cook, and the first intimation the white men aboard had of the slave mutiny came from the thudding of Cinquè’s machete, buried repeatedly in Celestino’s body. The thumping blows were so loud that they awoke Montez from sleep in the after cabin.

Celestino expired without a movement, without a cry, and Cinquè’s followers swept aft along the deck. Seeing the wave of enraged slaves about to engulf him, Captain Ferrer shouted in desperation to his cabin boy, Antonio, “Throw them some bread!”

Antonio had no chance to carry out the futile order. Before he could move, the foremost of the slaves, machete flailing, sprang upon the Captain. Ferrer eluded the blow and ran the man through with his sword. Then Cinquè was upon him. Cinquè’s machete rose and fell in one murderous stroke, and Captain Ferrer crumpled to the deck, his head cloven.

His fall unnerved the rest. The two sailors, Manuel and Jacinto, fled aft, leaped from the taffrail and started to swim to the nearby coast. This left only the planters, Ruiz and Montez, to oppose the rioters.

Ruiz had been the first to reach the deck. He arrived just as the slaves were swarming aft to attack the Captain. Grabbing an oar, he flailed about him, shouting “No! No!” In an instant, seeing that the slaves were beyond control, sensing the futility of battle, he dropped the oar and ran back into the cabin.

Montez, awakened by the thudding blows that killed the cook, emerged on deck a few seconds later, in the midst of the melee in which Ferrer was cut down. He grabbed a club and knife, and almost on the instant found himself face to face with Cinquè. One slashing stroke of Cinquè’s lethal machete, only partially parried, opened a long gash across one side of Montez’s head. A second ripped open Montez’s arm. The planter did not wait for the third and fatal stroke, but dropped club and knife and fled for refuge in the hold.

In the darkness, he momentarily eluded Cinquè, wrapped himself in an old sail, and hid between two barrels. A skilled huntsman, Cinquè rummaged the hold, seeking his quarry. As he did so, on the deck above, Ruiz surrendered to the slaves on the promise he wouldn’t be harmed. He then pleaded with his captors to spare the life of Montez. They agreed, and several went to the hold in search of Cinquè. They arrived barely in time. Cinquè had just discovered Montez’s hiding place and was striking out with his machete, trying to reach the huddled form behind the protective barricade of the barrels, when some of the other slaves grabbed his arm and restrained him.

Thus ended one of the strangest mutinies ever to take place on the high seas. Yet it was only a prelude to an even more fantastic odyssey and to a far-reaching sequence of dramatic events.

The mutiny on the Amistad became, in the instant of its success, a challenge to all the rules of the sea and the laws of navigation. For the new captain and crew of the Amistad were familiar only with the ways of the jungle. They knew not one rope from another; knew not how to handle the swift, tall-sparred Baltimore clipper or how to chart their course across the trackless pathway of the water.

All that Cinquè knew from observing the sun on their westward voyage was that their homes lay far to the east. When the sun shone, he could steer in the general direction of Africa. But in stormy weather and at night, he had no such guide. He was left with only one recourse—to enlist the aid of the white men who were his prisoners.

Montez, who had once commanded a ship, yielded to the persuasion of Cinquè’s brandished machete and agreed to sail the Africans back to their homes in Sierra Leone. He seized at once, however, upon the opportunity to dupe his captors in the hope of bringing about his own and Ruiz’s deliverance. By day Montez kept the Amistad’s prow faithfully to the east. but at night and in murky weather he altered course unobtrusively, sailing to the northwest.

For seven weeks, this voyage that nightly defeated the progress of the day kept the Amistad zigzagging back and forth in an erratic track across the Atlantic swells. There was scant food, little water. Seven of the Africans sickened and died. But the rest held grimly to their purpose, looking constantly to the east for the shores of Africa while all the time Montez edged them ever north and west, closer to the American mainland.

In late August the Amistad, nearing the coast in the triangle formed by the spit of Sandy Hook and the long, low-lying Long Island shore, began to sight ships outward bound from New York. From one, the Africans obtained some water and provisions before the captain, alarmed at the sight of black men carrying muskets and brandishing machetes, sailed hastily away. Fear spread along the coast. The strange and unkempt schooner had all the appearance of a pirate, and the steam frigate Fulton and several revenue cutters were sent out from New York looking for her.

The Amistad, flitting aimlessly off the coast, a gypsy of the sea without port or course, gave them the slip without trying. By Sunday, August 25, 1839, her odd crew had brought the ship to sight of land at Montauk Point at the extreme eastern tip of Long Island. Here Cinquè, knowing that this strange coast was not Africa, decided he would have to land to get fresh water and provisions to continue the voyage home.

He brought the schooner into the eastern entrance of Long Island Sound, and in the shelter of Culloden Point cast anchor. A boatload of slaves went ashore to forage for provisions. A small fortune in doubloons had been found in the Spanish planters’ possessions, and Cinquè gave the foragers several of these with instructions to pay for what they got. Banna, one of the slaves, who knew a few words of English, was the spokesman.

Accosting the first white men they encountered, Banna exhausted most of his English vocabulary in one question.

“Have rum?” he asked.

He showed his money and managed to dicker for a bottle of gin, some potatoes, and two fat dogs.

The success of this expedition prompted Cinquè to go ashore with another boatload of slaves and some water casks. They were filling the casks at a stream when two white men appeared, riding in a wagon.

Cinquè called Banna and asked him to inquire of the white men whether this was a slave country. Combining signs and broken English, Banna managed to convey the import of the question.

“No. This is free country,” one of the white men, a Captain Henry Green, assured the Africans.

“Spaniards?” Banna asked, sweeping his arms about in a gesture that said as plain as English: “Are there any Spaniards here?”

Captain Green shook his head emphatically.

“No, there are no Spaniards here,” he said.

At these words, believing they had at last won freedom in a free land, Cinquè and his followers leaped high in the air, kicking their heels and whooping with joy

The demonstration startled the two white men, who ran in terror for their wagon. Cinquè quickly took steps to reassure them. Shaking his head and making signs to indicate they intended no harm, he and his followers, in a gesture of perfect trust, turned over to Captain Green two guns, a knife, a hat, and a handkerchief—the total of their belongings.

Then began a strange palaver, with Banna, the most imperfect of interpreters, trying to convey to Captain Green that they wished someone to sail them back to their homes in Sierra Leone. They could pay. Would he take the job?

While the Captain was considering this weirdest of business propositions, advanced by a group of naked black men on a lonely Long Island sand spit, a sail suddenly hove into sight around Culloden Point. It was the navy brig Washington, on a coastal survey mission. Swiftly the Washington rounded to near the anchored Amistad, and the warship’s captain, Lieutenant Commander T. R. Gedney, sent a boatload of armed sailors, commanded by Lieutenant R. W. Meade, to investigate the sail-tattered, mysterious schooner.

Cinquè, at first sight of the Washington, had jumped into a boat with several of his followers and begun to row frantically for the Amistad . He was still some distance away, however, when Lieutenant Meade led his boarders up the side of the ship. The instant the navy men reached the deck, Montez and Ruiz appeared, hailing them as deliverers and asking the protection of the American flag. Cinquè arrived to find his followers disarmed, his schooner in possession of these alien men in uniform, himself again a prisoner. He sized up the situation at a glance, then leaped for the rail, dived overboard, and swam for shore.

The navy sailors quickly manned their boat and rowed him down. Then they continued on to shore to round up the rest of the Africans. The slaves, seeing the sailors approaching with brandished cutlasses, fell on their knees and pleaded with Captain Green—the man who had told them that this was a “free country”—to save them. Their piteous pleas went unheeded, and they were dragged back aboard the Amistad, a crushed and dejected band.

Aboard ship, Cinquè spoke a farewell to his followers. His wrists were manacled, but his carriage was proud and he spoke with a savage eloquence. Only Antonio Gonzales, the mulatto cabin boy whose knowledge of Mendi was admittedly imperfect and who was not above taking a bit of poetic license, pretended to know what he said. Antonio’s version, printed in the New York Sun on August 31, 1839, quoted Cinquè:

“Friends and Brothers: We would have returned, but the sun was against us. I would not see you serve the white man. So I induced you to help me kill the Captain. I thought I should be killed. I expected it. It would have been better. You had better be killed than live many moons in misery. I shall be hanged, I think, every day. But this does not pain me. I could die happy if by dying I could save so many of my brothers from the bondage of the white men.”

Though the Americans couldn’t understand Cinque’s oration, its import was obvious enough. His words brought an instantaneous angry stirring among the slaves, and the sailors, seeing his influence over his followers, hustled him from the schooner and locked him up aboard the Washington for the night.

The next day, resorting to sign language, Cinquè induced the sailors to take him back to the Amistad, pretending that he could show them where many doubloons were hidden. But once aboard the schooner, instead of unveiling treasure, he began to exhort his fellow slaves to rise and kill the white men.

The cabin boy Antonio was so stirred by the scene that he obviously added some embellishments of his own to Cinquè’s final words. This is the way he reported them:

”… It is better for you to die thus, and then you will not only avert bondage yourselves, but prevent the entailment of unnumbered wrongs on your children. Come! Come with me, then!”

The effect of the speech, reflected in the angry flashing eyes of the Africans, was such that the Americans again hurried Cinquè off the Amistad and back to close confinement on the Washington. Then both ships broke anchor and sailed across the sound to New London on the Connecticut shore.

Here it was that the American public first learned of the case that, for months to come, was to agitate the entire nation and to involve even the presidency in acrimony. The eyes through which America learned of the mutiny and the tragedy of the Amistad were those of John J. Hyde, editor of the New London Gazette. He boarded the slave ship on Tuesday and found aboard the three little girls and 41 surviving males, one more having died shortly before the Amistad was captured.

The Connecticut editor described Cinquè and the Amistad. He wrote:

On board the brig [Washington] we also saw Cingue, the master spirit of this bloody tragedy, in irons …. He is said to be a match for any two men on board the schooner. His countenance, for a native African, is unusually intelligent, evincing uncommon decision and coolness, with a composure characteristic of true courage and nothing to mark him as a malicious man. … we saw such a sight [on the schooner] as we never saw before and never wish to see again. The bottom and sides of this vessel are covered with barnacles and sea-grass, while her rigging and sails presented an appearance worthy of the Flying Dutchman, after her fabled cruise …. On her deck were grouped amid various goods and arms, the remnant of her Ethiop crew, some decked in the most fantastic manner, in silks and finery, pilfered from the cargo, while others, in a state of nudity, emaciated to mere skeletons, lay coiled upon the decks ….

Hyde’s story and a rough sketch of Cinquè drawn aboard the Washington were picked up by the New York papers, and within three days abolitionists began to rally to the cause. Lewis Tappan, a merchant and a dedicated foe of slavery, read the story in the Sun, and with the Reverend Simeon S. Jocelyn and the Reverend Joshua Leavitt organized the Committee of Friends of the Amistad Africans.

The Africans quickly grasped the popular imagination. Cinquè and his comrades were transferred from New London to New Haven, where they were jailed awaiting trial. They aroused so much interest that the jailer began charging an entrance fee, like the proprietor of a side show, to those who wished to see them. On pleasant days, the Negroes were taken to the village green under guard, and there they performed such feats of strength and agility that they drew crowds of spectators and showers of small coins.

Despite all this public attention, the Africans were virtually cut off from the world. Banna’s isolated words of English and the untrustworthy interpretations of Antonio formed their only links of communication. It was impossible to get their version of what had happened on the Amistad, and unless this could be obtained, they would be defenseless, unable to testify to save themselves when they were brought into court.

One determined man had already devoted himself to the task of breaking down this language barrier. He was Professor Josiah Willard Gibbs of the Yale Divinity School, a linguistic expert. Gibbs spent hours with the Africans in their cramped prison quarters, making them repeat their sounds for the numerals up to ten. Then he began to tour the water fronts. In New London he found no one who recognized the sounds he kept repeating. He went on to New York. Here he visited ship after ship, but though he found many Negroes who spoke African dialects, none understood Mendi. Finally, almost in despair, the Professor came to the British brig-of-war Buzzard. She had put into port after a cruise hunting slavers off the coast of Sierra Leone, and she had aboard a native boy, James Covey, eighteen, who spoke the Mendi language. At last a reliable interpreter had been found.

In the meantime, the legal entanglements had become infinitely complex, with salvage claims and charges of murder and piracy cluttering the issue. Most of these were quickly swept away, leaving as the crux of the case two international treaties. The first was a reciprocal agreement between Spain and the United States in 1795, under which each pledged to return any ships or goods of the other it might find on the high seas. The second was an 1817 treaty between Spain and Great Britain, under which Spain had outlawed the importation of slaves into her colonies after December 30, 1820.

This non-slave pact had become an international farce. Spanish governors in the West Indies closed their eyes, for a price, and slavers continued to run cargoes of kidnapped black contraband across the ocean to Havana. There, at a fixed bribe of $15 a head, the Negroes were supplied with official papers asserting that they were “Ladinos.” This was a term indicating a slave had learned Spanish or a Spanish dialect besides his native tongue, and was used to differentiate generations of Negroes born in the Americas from Bozals, or slaves just imported from Africa.

The Amistad’s papers showed, of course, that all the slaves were Ladinos, and the Spaniards used these documents to claim the slaves were their legitimate property and should be turned over to them automatically. The Spanish Embassy in Washington argued strongly with President Martin Van Buren that the courts had no jurisdiction; that under the 1795 treaty the Chief Executive should give the slaves back to Montez and Ruiz, their rightful owners.

Van Buren asked his attorney general, Felix Grundy of Tennessee, for a legal opinion. Grundy held that the Spanish claims were just. The United States, said he, had no authority to question the validity of the Amistad’s papers; all questions—the legal status of the slaves, the charges of piracy and murder—should be decided in Spanish courts. “A delivery [of the slaves] to the Spanish minister is the only safe course for this government to pursue,” Grundy told Van Buren. The President did not dare supersede the courts completely, but he did order the United States attorney in Connecticut to represent Montez and Ruiz.

With Van Buren thus a committed partisan of the slave interests, the controversy mounted to fever heat. Lewis Tappan and other abolitionist leaders spoke at public mass meetings, took up contributions for the Amistad cause, and engaged Roger Sherman Baldwin, one of the foremost attorneys of his day, as chief defense counsel.

The trial was set for early January, 1840, before Judge Andrew T. Judson in the United States District Court in New Haven. Judson was a Van Buren appointee, and his earlier career had been noteworthy for his prosecution of Prudence Crandall, a school teacher whom he had succeeded, with a mob’s help, in running out of Canterbury, Connecticut, because she had admitted a Negro girl to her young ladies’ academy and then, when the other pupils withdrew, turned it into an all-Negro school. The abolitionists were convinced that no more inimical jurist could have been selected to decide the fate of the Amistad Negroes.

Van Buren’s expectations tallied perfectly with the abolitionists’ fears. So assured was he of the outcome that he ordered the navy brig Grampus to New Haven for the express purpose of returning the slaves to Havana. The Amistad committee countered this move by chartering a fast schooner of its own, determined to make the daring attempt to spirit the slaves away if the decision should go against them.

The two rival vessels, anchored near each other in the harbor, were symbols of the rival causes that focused the tense attention of the nation on the New Haven courtroom when the hearing opened.

The case lasted a week, but the high point, with James Covey interpreting, came when Cinquè took the stand. He testified about the manner in which he had been shanghaied from the side of his wife and three small children in Africa. He squatted on the courtroom floor, demonstrating how tightly the slaves had been packed together in the shallow four-foot hold on the middle passage.

Roger Sherman Baldwin backed up this testimony by showing that the three little girls, all of whom had been born long after the 1820 slave-running ban, knew no language but their native African tongue. This prima-facie evidence that the children had been kidnaped was supported by the testimony of an expert on the slave trade. Dr. Richard Robert Madden, English member of the Mixed Commission trying to enforce the 1820 treaty, told the court he had seen the Amistad captives in the Havana barracoon shortly after they arrived from Africa.

This was the evidence before Judge Judson when, on January 13, 1840, he handed down his decision. He ruled that the navy officers, Gedney and Meade, were entitled to salvage for recovering the Amistad , but denied they had any right to collect on the value of the slaves. As for the claims of Montez and Ruiz, he cited the 1820 treaty outlawing the slave traffic and added: “These Negroes were imported in violation of that law, and by the same law of Spain, such Negroes are declared free, and of course are not the property of Spanish subjects …. Cinquez and Grabeau [another of the slaves who had testified] shall not sigh for Africa in vain. Bloody as may be their hands, they shall yet embrace their kindred.”

Then Judson ordered the slaves turned over to the President for transportation back to Africa.

The unexpected decision was greeted by abolitionists with wild rejoicing—an outburst that was stilled almost instantly by an astounding announcement. The United States attorney, acting on the orders of President Van Buren, filed an immediate notice of appeal, taking the case to the Supreme Court and dooming the Amistad Negroes to additional months of captivity.

At this juncture, a new and challenging figure entered the case—John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States. The venerable patriarch was now 73. Angered by the partisanship of the Democratic President, he forced through Congress a resolution calling for full disclosure of all official correspondence dealing with the case. And so there came to light a curious document.

This was a letter from Secretary of State John Forsyth to the United States attorney in Connecticut, written in January when Judson’s decision was pending and marked “confidential.” It revealed Van Buren’s intention to deny the slaves the right of appeal if the verdict went against them by whisking them instantly aboard the waiting Grampus. “The order of the President is to be carried into execution, unless an appeal shall actually have been interposed,” the Secretary of State wrote. “You are not to take it for granted that it will be interposed. And if, on the contrary, the decision of the court is different, you are to take out an appeal, and allow things to remain as they are until the appeal shall have been decided.”

Adams’ advocacy of the cause of the Amistad Negroes in Congress led directly to his retention to represent them, with Baldwin, in the appeal pending before the Supreme Court. Before the case came up on February 20, 1841, it had acquired a new dimension on the international scene, for Great Britain, angered by Dr. Madden’s reports on the continuance of the slave trade and the circumstances under which the Amistad Negroes had been kidnaped and sold, filed notes of protest with both Spain and the United States.

The argument before the Supreme Court followed the expected pattern. The government based its case almost entirely on legalistic rather than human concepts—on the contention that the Amistad’s papers had to be accepted at face value and that the Negroes must be returned to the Spanish courts. For the defense, Baldwin delivered a summation that Adams described in his diary as “a sound and eloquent, but exceedingly mild and modest argument.” This mildness Adams set out to rectify.

His beginning was eloquent and left no doubt that his audience was to be treated to the unprecedented spectacle of one President of the United States bitterly castigating the conduct of another before the bar of justice. Adams began by giving thanks that he stood in a court where each party would be protected “in his own right,” and then he added:

“When I say I derive consolation from the consideration that I stand before a Court of Justice, I am obliged to take this ground because, as I shall show, another Department of the Government of the United States had taken, with reference to this case, the ground of utter injustice, and these individuals for whom I appear, stand before this Court, awaiting their fate from its decision, under the array of the whole Executive power of this nation against them, in addition to that of a foreign nation ….”

Mincing no words, Adams read with scorn and sarcasm the “confidential” note containing Van Buren’s instructions that the slaves should be given no chance to appeal if the lower court decision went against them. And he asked with righteous indignation: “Was ever such a scene of Lilliputian trickery enacted by the rulers of a great, magnanimous, and Christian nation?”

Spain, he said, had demanded that the President of the United States first turn man-robber by removing the case from the courts, where the Africans would be protected in their rights; then Spain had demanded that the President turn jailer and keep the slaves in close custody to prevent their escape; and, lastly, Spain had induced the President to agree to turn catchpole and convey the slaves to Havana “to appease the public vengeance of the African slave-traders of the barracoons.”

Adams spoke for four and a half hours, as he noted in his diary, “with sufficient method and order to witness little flagging of attention by the Judges or the auditory.” There was a breathless hush as Adams finished his moving peroration, bowed humbly to the justices and sat down. Less than a month later, on March 9, 1841, the court denied the government’s appeal and ordered that the Amistad Negroes be set free immediately.

The sequel was almost as moving as the long and stirring drama. The liberated slaves were sent to school and given religious instruction for nearly a year in Farmington, Connecticut. Then they were taken back to Sierra Leone, accompanied by missionaries hoping to spread the gospel among Mendi tribesmen. This return to their homeland, so ardently desired, so long fought for, was laden with tragedy for many. Cinquè found that his father, his wife, and his children all had been captured by rival tribes and sold into slavery. He soon took to the bush, returning to native ways and setting himself up as a tribal chief. Others who found their families disbanded, lost to them forever, followed his lead, but several of the Amistad contingent remained for years, faithful workers at the mission.

In 1846, four societies that had been created originally to further the cause of the Amistad captives met in Syracuse, New York, and formed the American Missionary Association. With funds collected in the Amistad solicitation and other donations, the association began to work actively to educate the American Negro. In 1859 it founded Berea College, and before the close of the Civil War it had built the nucleus of what is now Hampton Institute. Throughout the next century the association continued to found schools, more than 500 in all. It was instrumental in establishing Howard University, Fisk University, Atlanta University, Talladega College, LeMoyne College, Tougaloo College, Dillard University, and Tillotson College—a legacy to an entire race from the small band of slaves who struggled so courageously for freedom more than 100 years ago.