by Mary Dickinson
August 11, 2004
In the entrance to the exhibit was a glass covered display case holding items that were stored in the hold of the ship with the captives: a keg of nails, machetes for cutting sugar cane, a chest filled with heavy brocade fabrics, a telescope, etc. The next gallery looked like the hold of a ship. We could hear recorded sounds that might be heard near the ocean. Written material told about the catastrophic horror forced on the Africans from the time they were captured, the inhuman indignities they suffered while being transported in the hold of a slave ship, the humiliation of being sold in a slave market, and finally, finding themselves once more on a ship and then freeing themselves from their shackles and revolting.
The next gallery had glass display cases with epaulets, a flint lock pistol, telescope, shackles, coin and paper money from 1839 and a picture of a naval officer of the period, information relevant to the recapture of the Amistad by the USS Washington. The contemporary arguments, pro and con concerning slavery, were printed on one display. A daily log of newspaper stories about the captured Africans (where they were staying, what they were doing, how their case was going) was in a loose-leaf scrap book bound with rope.
The next gallery had a light and sound show. Drawings of the Africans’ faces were on one wall and when they were mentioned by the recording, a light would shine on their picture. A silhouette of former President John Quincy Adams was referred to because he was the lawyer defending the captives in their second trial in the Supreme Court in Washington, DC. They were freed by a 6-1 decision made by three Southern justices and four Northern justices (one died before the decision was made on the case).
The last gallery had a woven piece of cloth and masks worn by women during a native ceremony, items from Mendeland in Sierra Leone in Africa, where the captives lived before they were taken captives. The exhibit was filled with power packed information; the more you read the more you got out of it.
From journal The Amistad and the CT Freedom Trail