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Benjamin Gerhard writes lawyer Theodore Sedgwick about his role in the Amistad case. Mr. Gerhard expresses his happiness that Mr. Sedgwick is representing the Africans and gives him news about the payment of the last commission. “Alas the poor Africans! I am glad you have been retained from them- so you have gained a cause.” [THEODORE SEDGWICK, JR.] BENJAMIN GERHARD.
Autograph Letter Signed “B. Gerhard”, to Theodore Sedgwick. Philadelphia, Pa., September 14, 1839. 8 x 5½ in. 1 p.
“Alas the poor Africans! I am glad you have been retained from them- so you have gained a cause. I annex a receipt for the costs of the last commission – to enable you to tax them. The other commission has been partly executed and will be dispatched early in the week.”
The Amistad (meaning “friendship” in Spanish), a Spanish vessel, was transporting fifty-three slaves from Africa in June and July 1839. Near Cuba, the Africans rebelled and managed to gain control the ship. But they were detained by the U.S. Navy near Long Island on August 26, 1839. The Africans were apprehended, taken to Connecticut, and made to endure a long legal battle over their legal status. In 1841, the case ultimately reached the Supreme Court, where former President John Quincy Adams argued on the Africans’ behalf. The Court ruled that the Africans were never legally slaves and, thus, should be returned to their homeland. The thirty-six surviving Africans did return to Africa in 1842.
Theodore Sedgwick, a New York lawyer, was appointed attaché to Paris and later District Attorney of the southern district of New York, and was one of the Africans’ defense attorneys.
Benjamin Gerhard was a Philadelphia lawyer who was appointed provost-marshal of his home city during the Civil War.
The letter is in fine condition, though the top half of the sheet has been removed, clear of the complete text.