Narrative of the Africans

New York Journal of Commerce

Citation Information:”Narrative of the Africans,” New York Journal of Commerce. October 10, 1839

1. To the Editors of the Journal of Commerce:

New Haven, Oct. 8,1839.

2. Gentlemen.—The following short and plain narrative of one or two of the African captives, in whose history and prospects such anxious interest is felt, has been taken at the earliest opportunity possible, consistently with more important examinations. It may be stated in general terms, as the result of the investigations thus far made, that the Africans all testify that they left Africa about six months since; were landed under cover of the night at a small village or hamlet near Havana, and after 10 or 12 days were taken through Havana by night by the man who had bought them named Pipi, who has since been satisfactorily proved to be Ruiz; were cruelly treated on the passage, being beaten and flogged, and in some instances having vinegar and gunpowder rubbed into their wounds; and that they suffered intensely from hunger and thirst. The perfect coincidence in the testimony of the prisoners, examined as they have been separately, is felt by all who are acquainted with the minutiae of the examination, to carry with it overwhelming evidence of the truth of their story. Yours respect’ly,


3. Monday, Oct. 7.

4. This afternoon, almost the first time in which the two interpreters Covey and Pratt have not been engaged with special reference to the trial to take place in November, one of the captives named Grabaung was requested to give a narrative of himself since leaving Africa, for publication in the papers. The interpreters, who are considerably exhausted by the examinations which have already taken place, only gave the substance of what he said, without going into details, and it was not thought advisable to press the matter. Grabaung first gave an account of the passage from Africa to Havana. On board the vessel there was a large number of men, but the women and children were far the most numerous. They were fastened together in couples by the wrists and legs, and kept in that situation day and night. Here Grabaung and another of the Africans named Kimbo, lay down upon the floor to show the painful position in which they were obliged to sleep. By day it was no better. The space between decks was so small,—according to their account not exceeding four feet,—that they were obliged, if they attempted to stand, to keep a crouching posture. The decks, fore and aft, were crowded to overflowing. They suffered (Grabaung said) terribly. They had rice enough to eat, but had very little to drink. If they left any of the rice that was given to them uneaten, either from sickness or any other cause, they were whipped. It was a common thing for them to be forced to eat so much as to vomit. Many of the men, women, and children, died on the passage.

5. They were landed by night at a small village near Havana. Soon several white men came to buy them, and among them was the one claiming to be their master, whom they call Pip, said to be a Spanish nick name [sic] for Jose. Pip, or Ruiz, selected such as he liked, and made them stand in a row. He then felt each of them in every part of the body; made them open their mouths to see if their teeth were sound, and carried the examination to a degree of minuteness of which only a slave dealer would be guilty.

6. When they were separated from their companions who had come with them from Africa, there was weeping among the women and children, but Grabaung did not weep, “because he is a man.” Kimbo, who sat by, said that he also shed no tears—but he thought of his home in Africa, and of friends left there whom he should never see again.

7. The men bought by Ruiz were taken on foot through Havana in the night, and put on board a vessel. During the night they were kept in irons, placed about the hands, feet, and neck. They were treated during the day in a somewhat milder manner, though all the irons were never taken off at once. Their allowance of food was very scant, and of water still more so. They were very hungry, and suffered much in the hot days and nights from thirst. In addition to this there was much whipping, and the cook told them that when they reached land they would all be eaten. This “made their hearts burn.” To avoid being eaten, and to escape the bad treatment they experienced, they rose upon the crew with the design of returning to Africa.

8. Such is the substance of Grabaung’s story, confirmed by Kimbo, who was present most of the time. He says he likes the people of this country, because, to use his own expression, “they are good people—they believe in God, and there is no slavery here.”

9. The story of Grabaung was then read and and interpreted to Cinquez, while a number of the other Africans were standing about, and confirmed by all of them in every particular. When the part relating to the crowded state of the vessel from Africa to Havana was read, Cinquez added that there was scarcely room enough to sit or lie down. another showed the marks of the irons on his wrists, which must at the time have been terribly lacerated. On their separation at Havana, Cinquez remarked that almost all of them were in tears, and himself among the rest, “because they had come from the same country, and were now to be parted forever.” To the question, how it was possible for the Africans, when chained in the manner he described, to rise upon the crew, he replied that the chain which connected the iron collars about their necks, was fastened at the end by a padlock, and that this was first broken and afterwards the other irons. Their object he said in the affray was to make themselves free. He then requested it to be added to the above, that “if he tells a lie, God sees him by day and by night.”