New Haven: E. L. & J. W. Barber, 1840. First edition. Disbound with final two leaves detached, but otherwise holding together well. Light scattered foxing throughout, as is common of imprints from this period. Collates [1-3], 4-32 with map and 38 portraits: lacking the scarce folding frontis, else complete. Currently the only copy on the market, this scarce and important piece of African American history has only appeared at auction on four occasions in the last decade.
Prior to his work on the Amistad narrative, John Warner Barber had a reputation as an author and illustrator of children's books and local histories focused on small towns along the eastern seaboard. But the "unusual degree of interest" that arose in America in response to the Amistad rebellion led him to focus on collecting first hand accounts "from authentic sources" in order to preserve and publish details on the event. As Barber recounts, in August 1839 a suspicious and potentially piratical ship called the Amistad was seen off the U.S. coast. Authorities who boarded the ship discovered that it was a slave ship that had been overtaken by its passengers -- and that the fifty four captive Africans aboard had rebelled against the crew, killing the captain and three mariners, with the surviving rebels attempting to steer the ship back home to Mendi. In addition to tracking the ship's capture and the investigations and trial of those who survived, Barber's History more importantly offers testimony from the Africans themselves. "Included are details of the horrid condition aboard the slave ship from African to Cuba...According to the description by Cingue, the leader of the revolt, and the corroborating testimony of his companions, Barber illustrated the three feet, three inch space in which the captives were forced to live on the ship...The trial was still ongoing at the time of this publication, and it would be settled with the freeing of the slaves by the United States Supreme Court in 1841...A document of America's early international relations, the complex legal issues swirling around the transatlantic slave trade, and its final dissolution, as well as illuminating the lives and realities of the captured Africans who finally regained their freedom" (Meckley).
American International Biography. Encyclopedia of the African American Society. Documenting the American South. (Item #2920)