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Elizabeth R. Purdy

On 28 June 1839 the schooner La Amistad sailed from Havana, Cuba, en route to Puerto Príncipe, carrying fifty-three Africans, including four children. These so-called slaves were in fact free Africans who had been stolen from their homes in West Africa and brought to Cuba. Two Spanish planters, José Ruiz and Pedro Montes, purchased them, gave them Spanish names, and falsely labeled them as native Cubans. After the schooner's cook jokingly told them that they were to be “killed, salted, and cooked,” the Africans decided to revolt. Three days after setting sail, the captives Joseph Cinqué and Grabeau led the Africans in using wood and knives to overpower the crew. During the battle three Africans as well as the schooner's captain and cook were killed.

After the revolt the Africans ordered theAmistad crew to return them to Africa However the Spaniards secretly turned the ship around each ...


Marian Aguiar

On June 29, 1820, an American revenue cutter captured the Spanish vessel the Antelope off the coast of northern Florida, bringing it to port in Savannah, Georgia. The Antelope had been seized by pirates, and over 280 Africans were discovered chained in the ship's hold. Some of the Africans had been on the Antelope when it was taken by the pirates, but others had been seized from at least two other slave ships, one Portuguese and one sailed illegally by Americans. The U.S. district attorney for Georgia argued that the captives were free under the acts of the U.S. government prohibiting the Transatlantic Slave Trade in 1808 and declaring the slave trade to be a form of piracy in 1820. The Spanish and Portuguese governments, however, which had not outlawed the slave trade, claimed the Africans as property stolen from ships of their nations.

The case went to ...


Roland Barksdale-Hall and Diane L. Barnes

The television adaptation of Alex Haley's Roots (1976), which traced the history of a black family beginning with its African progenitor, Kunta Kinte, aired to wide public acclaim in the 1970s. The family saga generated considerable attention, as evidenced by a rise in popular interest about the black family and genealogical organizations across the United States. The following decade Dorothy Spruill Redford organized a reunion of more than two thousand descendants of enslaved Africans—including herself—and their masters, then wrote Somerset Homecoming (1988). From the end of the twentieth century, Edward Ball's Slaves in the Family (1998) tells the story of the intertwined lives of slaves and their masters in antebellum South Carolina.

Firsthand slave narratives, while limited in number, are excellent primary sources. Narratives that give accounts of enslaved Africans' introduction to the Americas, such as the two-volume Interesting Narrative of the ...


John W. Pulis and David Simonelli

[This entry contains two subentries dealing with the Caribbean from 1492 through 1895 The first article discusses the Caribbean slave trade the transmission of cultural identities and the Caribbean s influence on North America while the second article discusses the 1834 emancipation of slaves in the Caribbean and annual ...


Robert Fay

Although Sengbe—pronounced Sin’gway, and later Anglicized as Joseph Cinque—lived for approximately sixty-six years, he is best known for his role in a drama that lasted a little more than three years. Scholars believe that Cinque, who belonged to the Mende ethnic group, was a married man and father before his abduction. Cinque was born in Sierra Leone and at about the age of twenty-six, he was kidnapped by slave raiders and sold to Portuguese slave traders who took him to Havana, Cuba. There, he and other Africans were resold and put on the Amistad Shortly after leaving Havana harbor Cinque led a group of slaves who freed themselves and attacked the ship s crew killing all but two crewmembers The rebels kept these two alive and ordered them to sail back to Africa The crewmembers however tricked them and sailed north About two months later the ship landed ...

Primary Source

America s long standing reliance on the peculiar institution as a theoretically inexhaustible source of human labor brought with it difficulties beyond the stark ethical and moral paradox of said practice existing within the world s first functional Enlightenment democracy By the early nineteenth century the move was on to shut down the international slave trade the mechanism through which countless Africans were carried against their will to the New World and which was a growing threat to the expanding and increasingly prosperous domestic slave trade Early efforts however such as the Slave Trade Act of 1794 which could only attempt to slow the international trade Article One of the Constitution forbade Congress from interfering in the slave trade until 1808 and the Slave Trade Abolition Act of 1807 which carried the relatively light penalty of forfeiture of vessel and human cargo were less than completely successful In 1820 Congress ...


On October 27, 1841, the brig Creole left Hampton Roads, Virginia, for New Orleans with 135 slaves. In early November off the coast of Florida about twenty slaves, led by Madison Washington, commandeered the ship, killing one white crew member. One slave was also killed during the revolt.

The likeliest destination for the fugitives was the free settlement of Liberia, in Africa, but since the Creole was unlikely to withstand such a journey, Washington ordered the crew to sail for the British port of Nassau in the Bahamas. On arrival, the slaves asked for asylum from Great Britain, which in 1807 had banned the trade of slaves and in 1833 had outlawed slavery altogether. Except for several men detained for mutiny and murder, the slaves of the Creole were granted their freedom.

Relations between the United States and Britain had been tense for several years before ...


Delano Greenidge-Copprue

Before his apprenticeship as a ship's caulker in Baltimore, Maryland, Frederick Douglass (then Frederick Bailey) was imprisoned for a week in Easton, Maryland, when his 1835 plan to escape the slavery of the colonel Edward Lloyd's plantation at Saint Michaels was discovered. Along with four conspirators, Douglass was shackled and pulled by horses, stumbling and at times simply dragged over the fifteen miles from the plantation to the jail in Easton.

As the seat of Talbot County on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Easton was a haven for traders who made a living buying slaves from jails and selling them into the more concentrated plantation labor of the Deep South. Hounded by traders while imprisoned in Easton, Douglass never forgot them. On 5 July 1852 Douglass denounced Austin Woolfolk a Maryland slave trader at whose slave mart on Pratt Street in Baltimore the fates of countless African Americans were ...



Robert H. Gudmestad

European visitors to the United States were keenly interested in slavery, African Americans, and race relations in America. Few blacks lived in Europe, as slavery had been abolished there, and almost no black Americans visited the Continent. European visitors held a spectrum of opinions about Americans and their customs: some praised qualities like ingenuity and democracy, while others criticized a lack of good manners. Europeans, though, were almost universal in their condemnation of slavery, even as they held a variety of opinions about African Americans.

Visitors traveling to northern states usually found their contact with African Americans to be agreeable. There were relatively few blacks in these areas; Europeans saw blacks working as both skilled and unskilled laborers. African Americans might carry luggage into an inn, serve meals in restaurants, or repair shoes. The Russian diplomat Pavel Svin'in visited the United States between 1811 and 1813 He went to ...


Alonford James Robinson

In 1966 black author James Baldwin wrote “To be born in a free society and not be born free is to be born into a lie.” Written a century after the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin's words conveyed the pain and the passion that characterized the lives of free blacks in America between 1619 and 1860. Many scholars suggest that during this period free blacks in America were “more black than free.” As historian Leonard Curry explains, “their educational attainment was limited, their social development was thwarted, occupations were closed to them, housing was denied to them, personal safety eluded them, and basic human dignity was begrudged them. Curry added that, “Because they were black, freedom was always and everywhere for them cruelly incomplete.”

These free Negroes as they were called at that time were scattered throughout three distinct regions the North the Upper South and the Lower South Each ...



Philippe R. Girard

Haiti, which occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, is the Western Hemisphere's second independent republic and the world's first black republic. Frederick Douglass served as U.S. minister and consul general to Haiti from 1889 to 1891. Christopher Columbus landed in Haiti (which he named Hispaniola) during his first transatlantic voyage in 1492. The island was home to Arawak Taino Indians, almost all of whom died of disease and bad treatment within fifty years of Columbus's arrival. Because of a dwindling Indian population and limited gold reserves, Hispaniola quickly became a backwater of Spain's American empire. France acquired the western third of the island under the Treaty of Ryswick (1697 and renamed it Saint Domingue Under French rule cultivation of coffee sugarcane cotton and indigo turned Haiti into the richest European colony in the Western Hemisphere but this success came at a price ...


In 1685 it became illegal for Huguenots to practice their Protestant religion in France. Many left France to escape persecution. Thousands immigrated to Protestant countries elsewhere in Europe, especially England, and others went on to settle in America, where they gravitated toward South Carolina, New York, and Massachusetts. Once settled in America, Huguenots soon conformed to the prevailing economic and cultural norms. They maintained separate French Protestant churches for a time in certain places but, by the mid-eighteenth century, most Huguenots had become English speakers and joined English churches.

Since many Huguenots had lived in the port cities of western France that traded with the Americas they had wrestled with the question of slavery long before they settled in America Huguenot cities in France such as Nantes and La Rochelle had become centers of the French slave trade in which a number of Huguenot merchants participated Many Huguenots spoke out ...



John W. Pulis

The island of Jamaica is one of four geological formations (along with Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico) that constitute what is called the Greater Antilles in a grouping of island (Lesser Antilles) and mainland societies (Belize, Guyana, Surinam, and French Guiana) known as the Caribbean. Columbus sighted the island during his third voyage to the region (1494). He was shipwrecked during his fourth and final voyage (1502) near Saint Ann's Bay, where he established a settlement called Puerto Seco and named the island Xamaica after the Arawak xamac, meaning “land of woods and waters.” The Arawak was one of several native groups residing in the Caribbean. The tribe had originated in South America and migrated up the Lesser Antilles to populate Cuba, Hispaniola, Puerto Rico, and Jamaica centuries before Columbus arrived.

Columbus claimed the island for Spain but colonization lagged behind that of Hispaniola Settlements ...



Paul Finkelman, Lois Kerschen and William Pencak

[This entry contains two subentries providing an overview of the Jewish presence in colonial and early national America through the nineteenth century The first article discusses Jewish involvement in the slave trade and cultural interactions between Jews and African Americans while the second article discusses Jewish political participation and ...


Richard S. Newman and Paul Finkelman

Kidnapping, or “man-stealing,” occurred when masters or slave dealers attempted to abduct free persons of color and send them into bondage. In some cases masters dispatched ruffians to recapture fugitive slaves but were not particular about the “recaptured” person's identity; in other cases masters kidnapped former slaves and sold them back into bondage. In any event, preventing the kidnapping of free black citizens and alleged fugitive slaves became a critical part of early abolitionist activism.

Although kidnapping may properly be said to have begun with the transatlantic slave trade it became a domestic problem receiving intense abolitionist scrutiny during the Revolutionary era and the early national period Slaves liberated both before and during the War of Independence found themselves recaptured by devious masters and slave traders In Virginia early abolitionist groups encountered dozens of cases involving kidnapped black men and women who wished to claim their freedom One striking incident ...


Steven J. Niven

slave driver, farmer, and Democratic Party activist was born a slave probably in Washington County Mississippi The names of his parents are not recorded On the eve of the Civil War and only sixteen he was working as a driver of slaves on a Delta plantation a position generally reserved for experienced laborers in their thirties or forties That Lucas achieved such a position at such an early age is suggestive of his willingness to work hard and to both obey and command authority Drivers enjoyed a fair degree of autonomy in their work and occupied a difficult middle position between their fellow slaves and those who owned them but most understood that the needs and desires of their owners came first Though some drivers interceded to protect the slaves from harsh treatment by white overseers or masters a minority abused their position by seeking sexual favors ...


Alonford James Robinson

The “Middle Passage” was a physical and psychological nightmare for an estimated twelve million slaves who were packed like animals aboard slave vessels. This middle, or second, leg of the Transatlantic Slave Trade marked the beginning of a terrifying experience. Olaudah Equiano, a former slave turned antislavery activist, captured his experience aboard a slave vessel in his autobiography. He wrote, “When I looked round the ship … and saw … a multitude of black people of every description chained together, every one of their countenances expressing dejection and sorrow, I no longer doubted my fate; and, quite overpowered with horror and anguish, I fell motionless on the deck and fainted.”

Typically slaves were shackled in pairs the right arm and leg of one chained to the left arm and leg of the other Men were separated from women but all were confined below deck and packed into slave quarters ...


The first known Africans to set foot in North America arrived in the summer of 1526, when five hundred Spaniards brought along one hundred black slaves as they tried to establish a town in the Carolinas, perhaps near the mouth of the Pee Dee River. That November the slaves rebelled, killed some of their former owners, and fled to join the Native Americans. Only 150 Spaniards survived; they retreated to Santo Domingo. Like many later incidents, this event is noted little if at all on the African American history landscape, but an ever-increasing array of markers, monuments, and museum exhibits tell of African Americans in the colonial world and the first half century of American national existence.


Paul Finkelman and David Quigley

Rhode Island is generally considered to have been an exception to typical patterns of colonial development in New England. The colony's founding—and, in particular, Roger Williams's commitment to religious liberty—stood in stark contrast to neighboring Massachusetts and Connecticut, with their established theocratic state structures. Economically, however, Rhode Island shared with its neighbors a deep investment in the Atlantic slave trade throughout the colonial period.

Records indicate that Rhode Island merchants were involved in the slave trade as early as 1649 Both local Native Americans and West African blacks were sold by Rhode Island merchants leading local families made great fortunes in the triangular trade linking North America with the Caribbean West Africa and Great Britain The involvement of merchants from Rhode Island in the eighteenth century Atlantic slave trade was unequalled by the business class of any other American colony or state Newport emerged as New England s ...


Mariana P. Candido, Robert H. Gudmestad, Olatunji Ojo and Mohammed Bashir Salau

[This entry contains five subentries dealing with the Atlantic slave trade from the sixteenth century to legislature prohibiting American participation in the early nineteenth century Each article discusses a chronological segment of the duration of slave trade the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries the eighteenth century to the American Revolution ...