Samuel Pieh on WRFG-Atlanta -
descendant Amistad leader Sengbe Pieh
Along with quotes from the Amistad Case before the Supreme Court by John Quincy Adams and a letter from the
former Amistad Captives to Adams
Note: In the past few years I have been fortunate to establish a friendship with Samuel Pieh, a descendant of Sengbe Pieh who was the leader of the Amistad Mutiny in 1839. Samuel obtained his university degree in Michigan and has subsequently been engaged in development work in Africa. In July 2016, while visiting Atlanta, Samuel Pieh was interviewed on WRFG-Atlanta's "African Experience Worldwide" with producer Mfon Ufot. Please see the interview below.

I am also including excerpts of the testimony of the former US President John Quincy Adams made in 1841 before the US Supreme Court on the behalf of the Amistad defendants. Included also is a letter of thanks from the former Amistad captives to John Quincy Adams.

If there was ever a time to reflect upon the integrity of some US presidents it is now. Read the narrative from John Quincy Adams that contains substance, humanity and fairness.

Peace,  Heather Gray
Samuel Pieh - July 2016

Samuel Pieh on WRFG-Atlanta
Samuel Pieh on WRFG-Atlanta
From Samuel Pieh  As a descendant of the enslaved Africans who became poster children of the USA Abolitionists in 1839, I have great respect and appreciation for former President John Quincy Adams for defending the human's rights of the Amistad African in the Supreme Court of America. I am also very grateful to all people of conscience... President Kennedy took great political risks by intervening to release Reverend Martin Luther King from prison in 1960, using National Guard to desegregate southern colleges including the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) where my own son graduated with the BSC degree in Criminal Justice/Sociology and Law Enforcement in December 2015. President Kennedy's oratory skills remind me of John Quincy Adams, especially the quote in his June 1963 civil rights address"...we have a right to expect that the negro will be presensible, will uphold the law, but they also have a right to expect that the law will be fair, that the constitution will be color blind..." I have learned that every partnership must be mutual commitment for the transformation to be effected in a sustainable manner.
From my humble beginning in Taiama, Sierra Leone and the deep and abiding faith in God and fellow human beings including my parents, I believe that I have life experiences that can trigger partnerships for peace and appropriate capacity building and strengthening. Like Sengbe Pieh of the Amistad Saga, I believe and practice honestly helping others while helping myself...."leadership with stewardship for public good is highly recommended for civic transformation".

John Quincy Adams Defends the
Amistad Captives before the U.S. Supreme Court

Abolitionists persuaded former President John Quincy Adams to represent the Amistad rebels before the Supreme Court. Adams accepted the invitation, stating that "there is in my estimation no higher object upon earth...than to occupy that position."

The 74-year-old Adams argued that the Africans had "vindicated their own right of liberty" by "executing the justice of Heaven" upon a "pirate murderer, their tyrant and oppressor." Adams, the son of one of America's founders, was the only surviving stateman who had been on close terms with Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. In the end, the court ruled that the Africans had exercised the right of self-defence since they had been illegally transported as slaves from Africa to Cuba. As it turned out, private donors returned 35 surviving rebels to Sierra Leone almost a year after the court ruling. While this outcome signified an extraordinary victory for black and white abolitionists, and for John Quincy Adams in particular, the Supreme Court made it clear that the Amistad case was highly exceptional and that slaves in general had no right to rebel or escape their bondage.

Cinque, the revolt's leader, returned to his Mende homeland only to find his village destroyed as a result of a war with a neighboring people. Apparently, his wife and children were sold into slavery during this conflict, and he never saw them again. He later worked as an interpreter for the American Missionary Association (Digital History).

Adams before the US Supreme Court in Behalf of Amistad Captives  
John Quincy Adaims before the US Supreme Court  1941 - from Spielberg film
John Quincy Adams before the US Supreme Court 1841 - from Spielberg film "Amistad"
John Quincy Adams - Argument in the Amistad Case  

On two separate days in 1841-the 24th of February and the 1st of March-74-year-old John Quincy Adams (a former President of the U.S.) argued to the Supreme Court on behalf of the Amistad captives.

John Quincy Adams
The position he took was contrary to that of the federal government, as specifically set forth by the sitting President (Martin van Buren).    

Justice Story , author of the opinion which freed the captives, told his wife that Adams' argument was "extraordinary."
In ( the clip above), from the Amistad  film, Anthony Hopkins delivers one segment of Adams' lengthy argument.  It is a brilliant example of how to effectively use rhetoric in an emotionally charged setting.
Move the video forward-to 4:45-to hear Adams deliver a compelling argument still relevant today (given the unrest and uprisings around the world).  Men and women-he asserts-will do what they must do to be free ... free of slavery, free of governmental control, free of unwanted and restrictive ties which bind them.

The case is entitled United States, Appellants, vs. Cinque, and Others, Africans, Captured in the Schooner Amistad.  The following are other highlights of Adams' lengthy, but powerful speech, in which he urged the Justices to declare the Amistad captives were free men, not slaves:
 ...I appear here on the behalf of thirty-six individuals, the life and liberty of every one of whom depend on the decision of this Court... Three or four of them are female children, incapable, in the judgment of our laws, of the crime of murder or piracy, or, perhaps, of any other crime. Yet, from the day when the vessel was taken possession of by one of our naval officers, they have all been held as close prisoners, now for the period of eighteen long months...
...The Constitution of the United States recognizes the slaves, held within some of the States of the Union, only in their capacity of persons-persons held to labor or service in a State under the laws thereof-persons constituting elements of representation in the popular branch of the National Legislature persons, the migration or importation of whom should not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808. The Constitution nowhere recognizes them as property. The words slave and slavery are studiously excluded from the Constitution. Circumlocutions are the fig-leaves under which the parts of the body politic are decently concealed. Slaves, therefore, in the Constitution of the United States are persons, enjoying rights and held to the performance of duties...
The persons aforesaid, described as slaves, are Negroes and persons of color, who have been transported from Africa in violation of the laws of the United States... The Court should enable the United States to send the Negroes home to Africa...in pursuance of the law of Congress passed March 3, 1829, entitled "An act in addition to the acts prohibiting the slave-trade."...
The President...signed [an] order for the delivery of MEN to the control of an officer of the navy to be carried beyond sea.... The District Judge, contrary to all [the] anticipations of the Executive, decided that the thirty-six Negroes...brought before the Court...were FREEMEN; that they had been kidnapped in Africa; that they did not own...Spanish names;...that they were not correctly described in the passport, but were new Negroes...fully entitled to their liberty.
Well was it for the country-well was it for the President of the United States himself that he paused before stepping over this Rubicon! [This is a reference to Julius Caesar crossing the Rubicon.] ... The indignation of the freemen of Connecticut, might not tamely endure the sight, of thirty-six free persons, though Africans, fettered and manacled in their land of freedom, to be transported beyond the seas, to perpetual hereditary servitude or to death, by the servile submission of an American President to the insolent dictation of a foreign minister...
[President Van Buren informed his subordinates that] if the decree of the Judge should be in our favor, and you can steal a march upon the Negroes by foreclosing their right of appeal, ship them off without mercy and without delay: and if the decree should be in their favor, fail not to enter an instantaneous appeal to the Supreme Court where the chances may be more hostile to self-emancipated slaves.
Was ever such a scene of Lilliputian trickery enacted by the rulers of a great, magnanimous, and Christian nation? Contrast it with that act of self-emancipation, by which the savage, heathen barbarians Cinque and Grabeau liberated themselves and their fellow suffering countrymen from Spanish slave traders, and which the Secretary of State...denominates lawless violence... Cinque and Grabeau are uncooth and barbarous names. Call them Harmodius and Aristogiton, and go back for moral principle three thousand years to the fierce and glorious democracy of Athens. They too resorted to lawless violence, and slew the tyrant to redeem the freedom of their country...
I said, when I began this plea, that my final reliance for success in this case was on this Court as a court of JUSTICE; and in the confidence this fact inspired, that, in the administration of justice, in a case of no less importance than the liberty and the life of a large number of persons, this Court would not decide but on a due consideration of all the rights, both natural and social, of everyone of these individuals... I have avoided, purposely avoided...a recurrence to those first principles of liberty which might well have been invoked in the argument of this cause. I have shown that [the Amistad's crew members] ...were acting at the time in a way that is forbidden by the laws of Great Britain, of Spain and of the United States, and...that these Negroes were free and had a right to assert their liberty...
On the 7th of February, 1804, now more than thirty-seven years past, my name was entered, and yet stands recorded, on both the rolls, as one of the Attorneys and Counsellors of this Court... I stand before the same Court, but not before the same judges-nor aided by the same associates-nor resisted by the same opponents. As I cast my eyes along those seats of honor and public trust, now occupied by you, they seek in vain for one of those honored and honorable persons whose indulgence listened then to my voice. Marshall- Cushing-Chase-Washington-Johnson-Livingston-Todd-Where are they?...Gone! Gone! All gone!... In taking, then, my final leave of this Bar, and of this Honorable Court, I can only ejaculate a fervent petition to Heaven, that every member of it may go to his final account with as little of earthly frailty to answer for as those illustrious dead...
Adams-who died six years after making this argument-convinced the Supreme Court that the Africans should be freed.  Private donors provided for their passage back to Sierra Leone.

(Note: for the full statement by Adams to the Supreme Court go to Avalon Yale University.)

Amistad Group Sends Letter to Adams  

Once freed, the Amistad captives gave John Quincy Adams a gift, in appreciation for all he had done for them.  Below is the letter and the transcription.

Kinna, Faliama, Kali, Foole, Barma, Cinqui, Cici, Batu, and Tagino.  
Letter to John Q. Adams. 5 May 1841  ( Slate)


Transcription of the Letter to Adams 
Farmington. May 5th 1841. 
Mr John Q. Adams

Dear Friend

We thank you very much because you make us free & because you love all Mendi people. They give you money for Mendi people & you say you will not take it, because you love Mendi people. We love you very much & we will pray for you when we rise up in the morning & when we lie down at night. We hope the Lord will love you very much & take you up to heaven when you die. We pray for all the good people who make us free. Wicked people want to make us slaves but the great God who has made all things raise up friends for Mendi people he give us Mr. Adams that he may make me free & all Mendi people free. Mr. Adams we write our names for you. Kali.

Mr. Adams

Dear friend, we write this to you because you plead with the Great Court to make us free and now we are free and joyful we thank the Great God. I hope God will bless you dear friend. Mendi people will remember you when we go to our own country & we will tell all our friends about you and we will say to them Mr. Adams is a great man and he plead for us and how very glad we be and our friends will love you very much because you was a very good man and oh how joyful we shall be. We hope the great God will send down His Holy Spirit upon you and have mercy upon you & that our dear savior Jesus Christ will bless you & give you a new heart & this because you plead for us. We give you good love. Kinna.

Dear Friend

I desire to write you a letter because you be so kind to poor Mendi people. Dear Friend I called you my Father because you set us free. Mendi people thank you very much and we will pray for you every day & night that God will keep you from danger. Dear Sir who make you to become great President over America people God - God make everything. He make men to do good and love one another. Your friend Foole.

Mr Adams We write our names for you in this Bible that you may remember Mendi people. Some cannot write so we write for them.

Kali, Cinqui, Cici, Kinna, Faliama, Barma, Tagino, Batu   

Adams' Letter of thanks to the former Amistad Captives

Adams sent a letter of thanks to Lewis Tappan, who had been so instrumental in helping the captives.  This is the text of the Adams letter:

Lewis Tappan, Esq. New York
Dear Sir,--I received and accept with thanks the elegant Bible, presented me by Cinque, Kinna, Kale and the thirty-two other Mendians, who are indebted to you, and your
benevolent associates, probably for their lives, certainly for their deliverance from unjust prosecution, and long protracted imprisonment and finally for the means of returning to their own country.... [I] hope for the consummation of your kindness to them in the accomplishment of their restoration in freedom and safety to their native land.
I am, with great respect, dear sir, faithfully yours,

Of the thirty-five survivors who made the return trip, only one-Sarah-came back to the States.  (She attended Oberlin College.)

Cinque died in 1879. He had lived to old age and was buried at the mission.