The African Captives

Citation Information:“The African Captives,” New York Commercial Advertiser, New York. 28 August - September 25, 1839 (reports from other newspapers and correspondents reprinted in Commercial Advertiser.)

As much interest and curiosity exist in the community, respecting the Africans now confined at New Haven, we take pleasure in laying before our readers the following letter from a gentleman who was appointed to visit them, and make report of their situation.

To the committee on behalf of the African prisoners at New Haven.

Gentlemen-Having been deputed to visit the company of African captives now in confinement at New Haven, I hasten to lay before you a few particulars respecting their situation. I found them occupying four or five apartments, under the care of the U. S. marshal, N. Wilcox, Esq. And his assistant, Mr. Pendleton. They seem to be made as comfortable as is consistent with their situation, excepting that they need opportunities for exercise in the open air.

This, I hope, will be secured as soon as the marshal returns from New London, where he has gone to take an inventory of the slaver and its contents. A faithful and accomplished physician, Charles Hooker, M.D., of New Haven, is devoting to all the professional attention they need. Five or six of them are in the hospital apartment, and some of the rest are slightly affected with bowel complaints. They have all been decently clothed in cotton shirts and trowsers by the care of the marshal, and will have flannel provided as soon as the physician shall direct. Care is also taken as to their food.

They were not as destitute of clothing when taken near our shore, as has been represented in the papers, but had clothing, probably found on board the slaver, which they did not wear in consequence of the intolerable heat when confined in the hold of the slaver. Great curiosity is felt to see these victims of the slave-trade, the first that have been known in Connecticut for a great many years.

Multitudes visit the prison, the keeper charging each one a New York shilling, the avails of which, after a just compensation for his trouble, he purposes to expend for the benefit of the prisoners, or for some other charitable object. Objections have been made to this course, but I found some of the most intelligent and humane of the citizens satisfied that the sympathy produced by it is rather favorable than otherwise to the prisoners, and also useful in raising their spirits, &c.

Joseph Cinquez, the leader, is in the cell with other prisoners; his countenance bears a resemblance to the prints that are hawked about our streets. He is less cheerful than many of the others. They all appear to be persons of quiet minds and a mild and cheerful temper; there are no contentions among them; even the poor children, three girls and one boy, who are in a room by themselves, seem to be uniformly kind and friendly.

I took along with me an old African man, who said he could speak the Congo language, in hopes thereby of attaining the means of communication with them, as the newspapers said they speak the Congo; but they all say the are not Congoes. Many of them say Manding, whence it is supposed they are Mandingoes, though it is not unlikely there are persons of several tribes among them.

Unremitted efforts will be made to obtain the means of communication with these unfortunate persons, who have been committed to prison and bound over to be tried for their lives, without an opportunity to say a word for themselves, and without a word communicated to them explanatory of their situation.

They are detained by the marshal on two processes; one the commitment for trial on a charge of murder; and the other the claim upon them as property by the Spaniards who pretend to be their owners, and by the American captors who have lobbied for salvage.

It is believed there are a number of Africans in this city, or various tribes, some of whom will be able to communicate with them.

Very respectfully,

143 Nassau street, Friday evening, September 6th.

P.S. it is expected that some of those native Africans will go to New Haven this evening with a member of the committee.