"The Captured Africans of the Amistad." New York Morning Herald, 4 Oct., 1839: 2.
THE CAPTURED AFRICANS OF THE AMISTAD,
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY TO LEWIS TAPPEN & CO. IN THE PRISON AT HARTFORD
The Africans of the Amistad ---- Scenes in Hartford Prison --- African Civilization --- Throwing Somersets --- Abolition Sympathy.
Hartford, Sunday Morning
A change has passed over the entire spirit of the existence of the negroes since their confinement at Hartford. Their animal spirits are greater than ever; they eat more, drink more, chatter more, gambol more, and turn more somersets than ever. In short, they are as merry as crickets, and as satisfied as pigs in clover. The excitement that is manifested by almost every one in relation to their disposition and their present condition, communicates itself to them. They are tickled half to death at the idea of having so much to eat without any labor to obtain it; so many persons to visit them; so many presents made to them; so much time to sun themselves; to roll, and tumble, and turn somersets.
Accompanying this letter, you will receive a drawing made by a distinguished artist from New York, called Peter Quaint, [which we have had engraved by Elton as above,] which is a faithful representation of the scenes generally taking place here. On the left hand is Lewis Tappan, with his white hat, attended by another abolitionist, looking at Cinguez kissing a pretty young girl, who was handed up to him by her sympathetic mother. Near the mother is the celebrated phrenologist, Mr. Pierce, who has been forming a vocabulary of their language, hereunto annexed. In the centre of the prison group is Garrah, turning a somerset before the Africans and white company --- and below, in the foreground, are two negroes scratching themselves, for it is well known that many of them have the itch. Away to the right is the fashionable, pious, learned, and gay people of Connecticut, precisely as they appeared during these amusing scenes in Hartford prison, receiving lectures and instructions in African philosophy and civilization.
These blacks have created a greater excitement in Connecticut than any event that has occurred there since the close of the last century. Every kind of engine is set in motion to create a feeling of sympathy and an excitement in their favor; the parsons preach about them, the men talk about them, the ladies give tea parties and discuss their chivalry, heroism, sufferings; thews and sinews, over their souchong; pious young women get up in prayer meetings and pray for them; scouts are sent round the country to hunt up all the negroes that can speak any kind of African dialect; interpreters by dozens arrive daily at Hartford; grammars and spelling books and primers without number, in all sorts of unknown tongues, are sought for and secured. A few weeks since Lewis Tappan arrived in Hartford, accompanied by his black tail; consisting of a great number of negroes of all ages and sizes, and colors, and speaking all languages from the Monshee down to the Mandingo. The appearance of this patron of pious negroes was exceedingly singular, as he paraded the streets of Hartford with a dozen negroes forming a black tail; first came a dark Congo negro, then one from further north not quite as black; then a very dark mulatto nearly black, then a very brown fellow, then a copper colored negro, then one a brownish yellow, then a dark yellow, then a light yellow, then a mustee, and then one almost as white as himself and much better looking.
The black fellows in confinement are astonished at all these singular movements, and begin to think, from the number of negroes brought to talk and jabber with them, that the blacks are the principle men in this country. They laugh heartily at all the movements of the whites, and consider them poor loafers, with ungraceful movements, and very much to be pitied because they are totally unable to turn a somerset. This is the ne plus ultra of accomplishments and refinements with them. If a man cannot turn a somerset they think very little of him in the way of civilization. They listen to what Lewis Tappan and the others have to say; and although Cinguez understands scarce a word that is said, and is conversed with often by signs; he replies merely by taking Lewis Tappan and his friends into the middle of the floor, and by signs asking them to turn a somerset. When he finds they are unable to oblige him in this particular, he throws a somerset himself by way of a lesson to them, laughs heartily, tries to turn up his flat nose, and walks off to his comrades, evincing the greatest contempt for the white chiefs who can't throw a somerset. In short, to such an extent do they carry this tumbling propensity, that it forms part of their religion. A beautiful and pious young lady, went to see and converse with Cinguez, by means of the interpreter, and to ask him to tell her what he thought of God. Cinguez politely asked her in Mandingo, if she could turn a somerset, finding her ignorant of that accomplishment, he told her his wife could do so, and then turned two somersets and a few evolutions, to show her the mode of worship in Africa, and the idea he had of the mode of life in another world.
At new Haven ladies were not allowed to visit the negroes generally; but at Hartford all who wish to enter are admitted. Before they left New Haven a very beautiful single white lady called on Captain Pendleton, the keeper of the prison there, and expressed a desire to see Cinguez, the chief and hero of this affair, as she termed him, as she wished to have a private interview with him, and converse with him alone. The keeper very politely told her that she could not be admitted to see him alone in his cell, but that he had a private room in his own house, where she could interview with him alone, as long as she liked. This she declined; but this is a faint specimen of the enthusiasm that exists among the young people of Connecticut in relation to them, particularly the women. It is a species of hallucination. They have invested in this affair, with all the romance of an eastern fairy tale, and they consider the black fellows as worthy of as much honor as the colored Moorish Knights of old; and if they get clear, it is probable some Yankees will pick them up in detail, and take them around the country to show them by way of a speculation. The poor blacks themselves are utterly astonished at the prodigious sensation they have created; it is the only topic touched upon in conversation, in the streets, the bar room, the ball room, the boudoir, the bed room, the kitchen, the parlor and the pulpit. And the negroes show their astonishment by eating an additional quantity of rice and throwing a few extra somersets to assist digestion.
The scenes that daily take place here in the prison here in consequence of this excited feeling, are ludicrous in the extreme. Parsons go to preach to them, philosophers to experiment on them, professors to pick up a knowledge of their language, phrenologists to feel their heads, and young ladies to look and laugh at them. On Thursday Cinguez underwent an examination at the hands of a phrenological professor, who has paid great attention to the Africans, and is understood to have made himself exceedingly popular with them all. The scene was worthy of the pencil of Hogarth. The prison is of a novel and admirable construction, comprising the advantage of perfect security, and every utility for the prisoners to enjoy themselves, and amuse the spectators. Adjoining the cells is an enclosure of some fifty yards in length by five in breadth. In this enclosure were the greater part of the negroes, and the space which they left unoccupied, was filled with men, women and children of all ages, colors and sizes. At a height of four or five yards is a gallery into which a range of cells open, overlooking the area below. In this gallery, on a blanket, lay the hero , Cinguez, elegantly dressed in the costume of his country, a red flannel shirt of the finest texture , and unmentionables of that capital fabric which Lewis Tappan calls . hard times. . By his side knelt the phrenologist, fumbling over his head with an air of solemn wisdom that would have done credit to a conventicle of jackasses or abolitionists, comparing his organs with a printed scale, and announcing the result of his examination to the admiring audience with unspeakable satisfaction:--
"Amativeness, 6," said the philosopher. "Gentlemen and ladies, Cinguez's love for the fair sex is moderate--very moderate, indeed. I doubt whether his fondness for the women surpasses that of many gentlemen here"--and the orator squinted hard at a liquorish old man, who was glowering at a pretty yellow girl in a corner.
A general titter interrupted the phrenologist.--Meanwhile, the negroes were anxiously watching his operations; and at last, Garrah, a dumpy little adherent of Cinguez, yelled out--
"Bobbery, jin, bow, gee, hoolah! Shinquah!"
A true translation of which is, "What is the fool white man pinching your head for, Shinquah?"
Cinguez raised himself on his elbow, and replied,
"Wah! yah, lum feroo"--meaning, "be still! I'll tell you all about it directly."
"Destructiveness, 5," said the phrenologist.--"Gentlemen, this organ is very slightly developed. My unfortunate friend here could not have killed the captain. It is impossible by the laws of phrenology."
"So it is," said an old lady in tin spectacles, who was greatly edified by the exhibition. "He is the harmlessest looking nigger I ever seed."
"Conscientiousness, 3" continued the philosopher; "Ah! that's not worth speaking about."
"Benevolence, 7," said the phrenologist, exultingly. "Didn't I tell you so? This organ has an extraordinary prominence. He is the most benevolent man in the world."
But patience had her perfect work with Cinguez, and would not work any longer. He sprang up impatiently, jostled the men who were standing around him, and rushed to the front of the gallery.
"Hillah, mooty, boo!" exclaimed he, in a loud voice to the blacks--that is, "Listen to my explanation."
"Bamba, nah, num, wah!"--"The slaves will attend," was the reply.
Cinguez then prepared himself by rolling up the sleeves of his toga, or red shirt, casting loose one of his suspenders, and tucking up his trowsers [sic] above his knees, thus disclosing a cucumber shin of great beauty, with the calf of the leg settled down into the heel. Then with a grace and dignity of bearing that would have commanded the admiration of a Hottentot, and an elocution worthy the best days of Mandingo eloquence, he began--
"Thuigua bootah, moo, tuab, jum yah gobblety." That is--
"Cinguez knows the white man to be a fool, but he submits to the operation from motives of policy." The phrenologist, supposing that Cinguez had directed attention to him for the purpose of giving him an opportunity to make a speech, came forward; the negro courteously yielding the floor:
"Ladies and Gentlemen," said he, "this is the distinguished Mondingo [sic] chief Cinguez, or to give the classical and proper pronunciation, Shinquah. He comes form the interior of Africa, where the foot of white man never trod, and where the rays of a vertical sun are poured down with such intensity as to make the colored man's face shine like a barn door in a frosty morning. He speaks a language at once copious, significant and emphatic, and his organs of articulation are more perfectly finished than any I ever examined. He enunciates the most difficult words without an effort, and the melody of his tones would charm an Italian. Ladies and Gentlemen, for your satisfaction, I will cause him to pronounce certain words that require the most perfect command of the voice. Cinguez" he continued, taking out his watch and showing it to him, "say watch." "Watchee!" said the chief. "Very good, very good indeed," said the philosoper [sic], looking exultingly around on his audience, and showing the negro the watch and key, he pronounced with great distinctness and beautiful spread of the mouth, "w-a-t-c-h-k-e-y!" "Watihiky!" said Cinguez, opening his mouth so that his upper jaw appeared to be an island.
"That will do. Ladies and Gentlemen, this very happy experiment illustrates the truth of what I have stated to you. Those unfortunate men, whom a kind Providence has thrown upon our shores, are capable of the highest intellectual achievements. Phrenology has tested their capacities, and who shall gainsay her decision? Geprah, (or Garobah, as it should be pronounced) the chunked little fellow whose breast is all over tatoo [sic], and whose benevolence induces him to throw a summerset for a pipe full of tobacco, has extraordinary mental endowments. I could teach him--yea, even as much as I know myself, in a short time. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am detaining you from eloquence far more impressive than my own. Shinquah will make an address to his faithful followers, which the interpreters will render into English as accurately as possible. It is necessary to observe, however, that the idiom of the Mandingoes is somewhat peculiar, and that it is so much more significant than our language, as to be capable of conveying in a few sentences, ideas that cannot be expressed in English without using more than quadruple the number of words."
Cinguez, after this flourish of the phrenologist, delivered himself of a most eloquent oration in this wise:--Yah ullah hoo yumbu hek goo èeh geroo wung boo wullah nah looh heè dloa nahen wah tomah poo jumba Ke Tapan ke lah kos wooh tee pouh jee hee yah kon waun ka woo ne fee leh etap nee yal manding bum se moo tah as um su ti ye hah whoo sha nah ah e so ya do oh po oh yoh so poo oh yahu de wahah. Wooh pee lah.
This speech of Cinguez produced a great sensation amongst the white ladies, who could not understand a word of it; and amongst the black fellows, who chuckled and laughed at it. The interpreter gave the following as a rough translation:
"Hear, brothers. The white men fools. We are better. They not swim, not jump, not tumble, not turn somersets. We do all this. White chief feel my head. It is hard. I feel his head. It is soft. White women handsome. Our women better. White women turn no somersets; not swim, not jump, not tumble. They talk too much. Out women swim, tumble over, roll, turn somersets. White man's rice good, sun good; water bad. Tappan talk much, fool, do nothing; cannot turn a somerset: want to teach us, but very much fool to know nothing. We go home to Mandingo and eat and drink, and swim and jump again. Yes." At the close of this eloquent address, the blacks shouted, and the white visitors expressed their entire approbation of the truth of Cinguez's reasoning. And in order to assist in decyphering [sic] his speech more correctly, we give the following vocabulary of numerals and words belonging to the Mandingo language, done into English by Professor Pierce, author of an entirely new system of English grammar, and who is now lecturing on the same to the female schools at Hartford. This vocabulary is of immense value, and fully equal to the discovery of the hieroglyphics of Egypt. It will throw a great flood of light on modern literature, and form a connecting link between the civilization of Africa and the civilization of Connecticut:--
Two Fee lah
Man Jee hah
Young man Dah pouh
Woman Nah-ah e
Young woman Yah-rah-poohe
Wife Nah ah-e-so
Husband Nee-eehe ro
Father Jee-he hoo-ah (man parent)
Mother Hah-al e hoo-ah (woman parent)
Infant girl Yah-oo-po-oh }babe
do[.] boy Do oh po-oh }babe
Little boy Hin-doo-poo-oh
" girl Yi-hi-jar-whe
Wife Yah-ah-ne ah
Ear Nah-oo-e le
Breast Nah le mah
Whole front He-pe-eh
Rib Gah-gah kah
Arm--above elbow Yah-lo-quoh
" below Yah-reoh koo-eh
Wrist Yah-roo-koo-lah i
Finger nail Yah jah-goo-eh
HARTFORD, September 28.
The blacks were all sent off to New Haven this morning, by the way of the Farmington canal, with the exception of Cinguez, who goes down on the Railroad this evening, under the orders of the Marshal. For the last three or four days, since it has been known that our good citizens were to be deprived of an opportunity to enjoy the society of these interesting strangers, as Mr. Sedgewick, their next friend, calls them and himself, the rush to the prison has been immense; all ages, colors, sexes, and sizes, have crowded the jail, carrying presents of confectionary [sic], cake and coppers, and the blacks have been in high glee eating, smoking, grinning and turning somersets. In fact, for the last fortnight, our prison has been a sort of fool's paradise, filled with gaping curiosity, silly men, infatuated women and happy negroes. Under the judicious instruction of a couple of benevolent gymnastic professors, the negroes have made astonishing proficiency in the science of ground and lofty tumbling.
Garrah executes feats in this line that I have never before seen attempted. He throws somersets sideways, and exploit requiring great supleness [sic] of limb, as well as extraordinary strength. Garrah says he is a Manding Fay, and I am not disposed to doubt it. To be sure, a squat, dumpy creature, 4 1-2 feet high, with ebony skin, and woolly hair; skull, elongated towards the front, and latterly compressed; low, narrow, and slanting forehead; high cheek bones; narrow and projecting jaws; oblique front teeth, and a flat nose spreading into and confused with the upper jaw, presents an appearance not especially elflike, or corresponding in many essential particulars with the generally-received ideas of a Fay; but Garrah's feats are more readily accounted for on this supposition, and it is possible that an African Fay partakes of some of the characteristics of the country, and thus differs from the fairy of other lands. At any rate, he is a captital [sic] tumbler, and Far or Fey, he would be worth his weight in lead, at least, to a showman.
I am inclined to believe that Cinguez, or Jinquez, a he is generally called by the blacks, is a Crumen. The Crumen, or Curumen, as it is sometimes spelled, are an active and warlike tribe, inhabiting the region on the southern border of the Coanra river. There is an inconsiderable French settlement at San Felipee, a distance of about 150 miles to the southward of the river. The Crumen are a resolute and enterprising people, living a predatory life, and annoying their neighbors with frequent incursions, carrying off and reducing the inhabitants to slavery. They are not very numerous, but there is no tribe on the Gulf of Guinea which has contributed so much to supply the slave ships as the Crumen. They are represented to be a turbulent and refractory race, incapable of being reduced to domestic servitude, restless in their habits, prompt in their resentments, averse to labor, and subsisting principally on the products of the chase. They frequent the sea coast in gangs of twenty of thirty, and are sometimes induced, by the proffer of great rewards, to assist in loading and unloading vessels. The rays of the sun, in that infernal climate, are so intense at certain periods, that Europeans and Americans cannot expose themselves to their influence without imminent hazard. During the continuous rains that prevail for two or three successive months, none but natives inured to the climate can live, unless constantly sheltered. Jinqua is familiar with many French phrases, and has obviously been often among the whites. He has been a trader, both in slaves and the various products of his country. The story of his having been a prince, is abolition flummery. He is an active and enterprising fellow, and had prosecuted his traffic with considerable success, but in his last expedition, he was seized and sold to slavery by a powerful chief named Sharkar, with whom he had frequent dealings.