Friday, Jan 5, 2007
The Mendi Bible, part of the museum collection at Adams National Historical Park, was used in the inauguration of Governor Deval Patrick and Lieutenant Governor Tim Murray yesterday at the State House in Boston, Massachusetts. The Mendi Bible was inscribed by the Amistad captives and presented to John Quincy Adams in appreciation for his invaluable legal assistance on their behalf.
âOne hundred sixty-six years after John Quincy Adams defended the Mendi People, the Amistad story continues to engage generations, and compels us to look to the past as we engage in the present and formulate our vision for the future,â said superintendent Marianne Peak. âThe Amistad story is our reminder of the impact one individual can have on society and the importance of âcivic engagement.â These ideals of active citizenship, patriotism and the lifelong commitment of service to country, are as relevant in 2007 as they were in 1841, and an important piece of our stateâs rich heritage.â
As a sign of their gratitude, the former Amistad captives presented John Quincy Adams with what is known as the Mendi Bible. It is inscribed on the inside with a letter of thanks signed by three of the Mendi tribesmen, and dated November 6, 1841. The Mendi Bible is on exhibit in the park.
In l946, the Adams family gifted the Presidential home and contents to the people of the United States to be administered by the National Park Service.
âThe Mendi Bible is one of the most significant and moving pieces of history in the Adams family,â said Benjamin Adams, president of the Adams Memorial Society and a descendant of John Quincy Adams. âIt reflects the great determination and courage of a people who, after long suffering, were fortunate to find themselves befriended by an old man, a former President with a passionate belief in justice. We are tremendously pleased that the Mendi Bible continues to serve as a symbol of our nation's most precious and fundamental beliefs.â
âThis Bible comes from an extraordinary moment in the history of the commonwealth, the nation and the world,â said Beverly Morgan-Welch, co-chair of the inaugural committee. âThe Amistad case was a giant step forward for the abolitionist movement and recognized the basic humanity of enslaved people in America. It is now fitting and proper that we honor it now as part of this historic inaugural.â
Tours and education programs at Adams NHP provide insight into the story of The Amistad that began in January 1839 when hundreds of native Africans were kidnapped from Mendeland near Sierra Leone and illegally sold into the Spanish slave trade. The captives endured brutality, sickness, and death during a horrific journey to Havanna, Cuba. Upon arriving in Cuba, the Africans were fraudulently classified as native Cuban-born slaves, sold at auction and then transported to other parts of Cuba aboard the cargo schooner La Amistad. Desperate, the Africans staged a revolt three days into the journey and seized control of the vessel, killing the captain and the cook. The Africans were led by the young Sengbe Pieh, a 25-year-old Mendi known to the Spanish as Cinque, who managed to unshackle himself and his companions. Despite their attempts to sail back to Africa, the vessel was seized off Long Island by United States authorities.
Eventually the men were put on trial in New London, Connecticut. This event generated much interest and tremendous political attention. Abolitionists rallied to the captured slavesâ defense, and to much surprise, the district court judge set them free, stating that they were free men who had been illegally abducted. The case was appealed and made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court, where eight of the nine sitting justices were slave owners themselves.
The Amistad defense team felt they needed help and enlisted the aid of a reluctant John Quincy Adams. The former president, age 72, was worried that he was too old to take the case and that he had not tried a case in decades. Eventually John Quincy took the case, believing that this would be his last great service to his nation. In February 1840, he argued passionately in defense of the Africanâs fight to freedom. In March 1841, the Supreme Court issued its final verdict: The Amistad Africans were free people and should be allowed to return home.
Following the inauguration ceremony the Bible will be on exhibit in the State House and an Adams NHP ranger will highlight the Amistad event at the Museum of African American History at 46 Joy Street.
The park is open April 19th through November 10th. For more information please call (617) 770-1175 or visit www.nps.gov/adam .