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Cinque was an almost mythic figure during the controversies and legal cases surrounding the slave ship Amistad in 1839-1841. He freed himself and the other Africans in the hold of the Amistad, initiated the revolt that captured the ship, and led the ships’ voyage from waters near Cuba to the United States. After being captured off the coast of Long Island, while imprisoned in Connecticut as the Africans’ status was debated by the U.S. Supreme Court, Cinque learned to speak and write English. (That they spoke Mende was discovered by a linguistics professor at Yale, who then found translators—two escaped slaves who spoke both languages).
After winning their freedom, Cinque and some others embarked on a lecture tour to New York and Philadelphia in May 1841 to raise funds for their return home. Their enthusiastic reception by the abolitionist movement made for a busy schedule. Among the stops, Cinque visited the Lombard Street School for black children in Philadelphia.
This autograph, signed at the Lombard school on May 27, 1841, is one of only two or three known original signatures of Cinque. CINQUE.
Autograph as Leader of the Amistad
Captives. Philadelphia, Pa., May 27, 1841. 1 p. Also signed by F-foole [Fuli]. With two endorsements in unknown hand, the later one possibly written by Charles Evans in pencil.
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For a related item see Inventory #21456
With a collection of autograph letters and autograph quotations signed by prominent abolitionists Thomas Clarkson, Charles C. Burleigh, John Pierpont, Joseph Parrish, Joshua Giddings, and Isaac T. Hopper, considered by some to be the founder of the Underground Railroad. And four partially printed documents signed by the governors of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts appointing the Elwood Evans, the compiler of this collection, to customs posts in the Puget Sound area.
[in unknown hand:] visited at Lombard St School 5mo 27 1841
[Endorsement in unknown hand:] Cinque, & F-foole visited the abo School With Chas Evans then a Director and then and there signed the above
The 53 Africans had been kidnapped, mostly from the area of Sierra Leone, and sold to two Spanish slavers. Transported from Africa on the Amistad, they revolted while being taken from one Cuban port to another (as direct importation of slaves from Africa was illegal after 1808). The desperate Africans armed themselves and killed the captain (and the cook, who had told them that they would be killed and eaten on arrival at port). They took over the schooner and ordered it sailed back toward Africa, not realizing that during the night the remaining slave-trader was stealthily steering the ship back toward America. When they landed on the coast of Connecticut, they were arrested and imprisoned.
The Amistad captives eventually received their freedom in 1841, after two years’ internment in the United States awaiting the verdict of the courts regarding their “revolt.” Their case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court by former president John Quincy Adams. Widespread popular support for their cause in the Northeast brought unity to the anti-slavery movement. The Amistad Committee formed to handle their defense and repatriation led to the founding of the American Missionary Society in 1846, which became the largest and most influential abolitionist organization until the outbreak of the Civil War.
This leaf is signed by the leader of the Africans, Joseph Cinque, and also by another Mende man, F-foole, or Fuli. A note in another hand furnishes the place and date of signing: Philadelphia’s Lombard Street School, May 27, 1841. A later annotation, which continues onto the mounting sheet, was written at a later time and testifies that “Cinque & F-foole visited the abo School With Chas Evans then a Director and then and there signed the above.”
The Amistad Committee had the task of raising money to send the freed Mendis back to Africa. Abolitionist and philanthropist Lewis Tappan launched a series of fundraising events in New York and Philadelphia in May 1841. The press covered the tour extensively as the group of sixteen Mendis and their teacher, Sherman Miller Booth, visited churches, meeting halls, and schools, where they recited and read aloud, sang hymns, and spoke in both English and the Mendi language. The Pennsylvania Freeman, a Philadelphia paper, reported on May 26, 1841:
“AMISTAD CAPTIVES. A meeting, for the benefit of these interesting strangers, was held in this city, on Monday evening, in Dr. Wylie’s church, in Eleventh street. It was well attended, though from the brief notice that was given, the house was not entirely filled. The occasion was one of great interest. The fine appearance of the Africans, their intelligent countenances and dignified and manly bearing – showing that they had never had their spirits broken by the yoke, were subjects of general remark among the audience; and the evidence of proficiency in their studies, and the prompt and intelligent answers which they gave to the questions that were put to them, excited the liveliest admiration.”
Although we haven’t found the Lombard Street School visit written up, it may have been chosen as an example of the way that black children were educated in Philadelphia. The school was supported by the Pennsylvania Abolition Society (PAS), which had been founded in 1775 to work for the “Abolition of Slavery” and to provide “Relief for Free Negroes unlawfully held in Bondage.” The society also added a third mission in 1787: “improving the Condition of the African Race.” For the founders, this primarily meant offering jobs and education to black youth, whether escaped slaves from the South or native Philadelphians.
In 1828, black students at a smaller school were relocated to the Lombard Street School, just north of Sixth Street on the west side of Lombard. According to an article on black education from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, “Two dedicated white teachers, James Bird and Maria C. Hutton, helped make the Lombard Street School a success. However, after James Bird was transferred to a white school in 1833, Lombard experienced a high turnover of students. In 1840, the Philadelphia school board decided to close the Lombard Street School down and limit black education to the first three grades. James Forten, a prominent black sailmaker, created a committee to oppose this move, and the PAS Board of Education supported him in a successful campaign to keep the Lombard Street School open.” Forten, outspoken in his opposition to slavery, was involved in almost every major civic event concerning the African-American community in Philadelphia from the 1790s until his death in 1842.
This note was preserved in the collection of Elwood P. Evans, who assembled an early collection of letters requesting autographs from well known abolitionists. Elwood, the son of Charles Evans of Philadelphia, was eleven years old when Cinque signed this autograph. The Supplement to a Descriptive Catalog of Friends’ Books (by Joseph Smith, 1893) lists an article and another publication by Charles Evans, M.D., of Philadelphia, published in 1878, within a year of Elwood Evans’s father death.
The only other known autograph signature of Cinque was written on a page of autographs of the “Mendi Negroes,” the original of which was in the possession of Julius Gay, a Farmington, Connecticut banker, in 1901. The whereabouts of the original is now unknown, but a facsimile was published in Farmington Magazine in February 1901. It was republished in 1906 in a limited edition of essays entitled The Village of Beautiful Homes, again republished in 1997 by the Farmington, Connecticut, Historical Society.
Joseph Cinque (ca.1813-ca.1879) was in his mid-twenties when captured by slavers in 1839. He was the son of a chief in the West African Mende country, in a town about ten days’ march from the coast. A rice farmer, while travelling he was captured by four men, and taken to the coast to be sold. In 1842, upon returning to Africa with the American Mende Mission, Cinque discovered that his wife and three children had been killed in slaving wars. Reportedly he became a trader along the coast and lost contact with the mission, although one story claimed that as an old man Cinque returned to the abolitionist mission to die.
Fuli (also spelled F-foole and Fu-li-wah), according to the New York Herald of May 15, 1841, was born at Ma-no, a town in the Mendi country. “He lived with his parents and his five brothers. His town was surrounded by soldiers, some were killed, and he with the rest were taken prisoners. He passed through the Vai country, when taken to Lomboko, and was one month on the journey. He is in the middle life, face broad in the middle, with a slight beard.”
Elwood P. Evans (1828-1898), born in Philadelphia, became a historian of the Pacific Northwest, as well as secretary of the Territory of Washington and interim governor in 1865. He was a freemason, master of the Olympia Lodge #1, and practiced law in Olympia from 1852. In 1864-65, Evans was labeled a traitor by Washington Governor Pickering, who begged Lincoln in letters and telegram to immediately replace him. It’s hard to reconcile this reported Copperhead stance with his father’s and his own earlier support of abolitionism – and we wonder if the reports are true. In any case, he was later president of the Washington State Historical Society, edited the first issue of the Washington Historical Magazine, and in 1889 published History of the Pacific Northwest (2 vols.).
“Black Education,” Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
"Mendis Perform," New York Herald, May 15, 1841.
Quarles, Benjamin. Black Abolitionists. New York and London: Oxford University Press, 1969.
Additional research files and images available on request.