Letter from Kale to John Quincy Adams, 4 January 1841
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This letter was written by Kale, one of the defendants in United States v. The Amistad (1841), to John Quincy Adams-former president of the United States and, at the time, a U.S. Representative from Massachusetts-who would soon defend the Mende captives before the United States Supreme Court.
Kale's journey from Africa to the U.S. capital had begun in 1839, when the captain and crew of a Portuguese slave ship called the Tecora illegally transported some 200 men, women and children from West Africa. In Cuba, Don Jose Ruiz bought 50 of the captives, including Kale, for use on his plantation. They were transferred to an American-built schooner, originally called Friendship and renamed La Amistad by its Spanish-speaking owners. Before they had reached their destination, however, the enslaved Mende rebelled and took over the ship. Taking advantage of the rebels' unfamiliarity with navigation, the Spanish prisoners tricked them into steering towards the United States instead of returning to Africa. After two months at sea, the ship reached the coast of Long Island, where they were intercepted by the U.S. Navy. While the 43 Africans waited in a jail in New Haven, Connecticut, their case, known as United States v. The Amistad (1841), was finally decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of the Mende, restoring their freedom, and became a symbol in the United States' movement to abolish slavery.