Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua: The only known biography of a former slave from Brazil.

Abolitionist and slave-narrative author, he was born in the commercial center of Djougou, West Africa, inland from the Bight of Benin in what would later be the republic of Benin. He was a younger son of a Muslim merchant from Borgu and his wife, who was from Katsina, the Hausa city in northern Nigeria— then known as the Sokoto Caliphate; his parents’ names are now unknown. His home town, Djougou, was located on one of the most important caravan routes in West Africa in the nineteenth century, connecting Asante, the indigenous African state that controlled much of the territory that would become Ghana, and the Sokoto Caliphate. After a childhood in which he attended a Koranic school and learned a craft from his uncle, who was also a merchant and a Muslim scholar, Baquaqua followed his brother to Dagomba, a province of Asante. There he was captured in war in the early 1840s, but he was released when his ransom was paid. However, back home in Djougou, he was again taken captive, apparently kidnapped, in 1845, at about age twenty or twenty-one. Baquaqua was then sold south to Dahomey and eventually to a Portuguese ship trading at Ouidah and Popo and taken to Brazil.

In Brazil, Baquaqua was initially sold to a baker in Pernambuco. When he refused to comply, he was sent south to Rio de Janeiro and sold to a ship’s captain. Baquaqua served as the cabin steward on the Lembrança, a ship that made two trips to southern Brazil before sailing from Rio to deliver a consignment of coffee in New York. There, Baquaqua became the object of a legal dispute between local abolitionists who helped him jump ship, and his Brazilian master who attempted to recover him. When two judges refused to free Baquaqua, his abolitionist supporters helped him to escape from jail and make his way to Boston via the Underground Railroad. From Boston he was sent to Haiti to avoid being arrested again.

In the free black republic of Haiti, Baquaqua once again faced the difficulty of adapting to another culture and language. The Reverend William Judd and his wife Nancy of the American Baptist Free Mission Society soon took him into their home. There, he worked as their cook and learned English, becoming proficient enough to read the Bible and write letters. He also converted to Christianity and was baptized in 1848.

After two years in Haiti, Baquaqua was in danger of being drafted into the Haitian army. He returned instead to New York to continue his education, hoping to work as a missionary in Africa. With the support of abolitionists, he secured funding and studied for three years at New York Central College in upstate New York. After leaving school in 1853, he traveled throughout New York and Pennsylvania, fundraising for the Free Baptist missions. Baquaqua drew on his own experiences as a slave to become an effective abolitionist speaker in spite of his heavily accented English.

Racist attacks and threats prompted Baquaqua to move to Chatham, Ontario, Canada in 1854. He crossed the border to nearby Detroit in order to arrange publication of his biography under his own copyright. Shortly thereafter, Baquaqua left for Liverpool, England, planning to return to West Africa. However, he encountered many difficulties in securing funding and was still in England as of 1857, the last date in which he appears in the historical record. How and where he died, and whether he married and had a family are unknown today.

Although he may never have reached Africa, Baquaqua’s biography ” Biography of Mahommah Gardo Baquaqua” survives to document his resistance to enslavement, as well as his unique journey from bondage in Africa and Brazil to freedom in New York and England. His biography is valuable as one of the most detailed and fully authenticated accounts of Africa and the Atlantic crossing on a slave ship. Baquaqua is also notable for making the cultural transition from being a Dendi-speaking Muslim, who had studied at a Qur’anic school and knew some Arabic, to a Portuguese-speaking slave in Brazil, then to a free Baptist convert in Creole-speaking Haiti, and finally to an English-speaking abolitionist in North America and England.


                         You can’t expect one of my race, 
                         With woolly hair and sable face, 
                         And scarce a ray of knowledge 
                         To interest his friends at college. 
                         But, I will do the best I can, 
                         To prove I mean to be a man. 
                         ‘Tis true, my limbs have fetters worn, 
                         ‘Tis true my back the scourge has borne, 
                         But ’tis not true that tyrant’s power 
                         E’er made my heart within me cower. 
                         No ! that was free as when I played, 
                         Beneath my native palm trees’ shade.

                       Oh! Africa, my native land, 
                         When shall I see thee, meekly stand, 
                         Beneath the banner of my God, 
                         And governed by His Holy word?

                         When shall I see the oppressor’s rod 
                         Plucked from his hand, my gracious God? 
                         Oh! when shall I my brethren see, 
                         Enjoy the sweets of LIBERTY?

                         Friends of the crushed and bleeding slave, 
                         Ask God to pity! God to save!! 
                         For all the help of man is vain, 
                         Since man for man has forged the chain. 
                         Oh Righteous Father, thou art just, 
                         To thee I look, to thee I trust; 
                         Oh may thy gracious spirit bear 
                         The Afric’s groan, the Afric’s prayer, 
                         Up to thy spotless throne above, 
                         Where all is joy and peace and love, 
                         For Jesus’ sake, Oh! save the oppressed, 
                         And let their souls in heaven find rest.


Joseph Cinquez, the Congolese’s Chief who prefers death to slavery

Amistad mutiny, (July 2, 1839), slave rebellion that took place on the slave ship Amistad near the coast of Cuba and had important political and legal repercussions in the American abolition movement. The mutineers were captured and tried in the United States, and a surprising victory for the country’s antislavery forces resulted in 1841 when the U.S. Supreme Court freed the rebels. A committee formed to defend the slaves later developed into the American Missionary Association (incorporated 1846).

On July 2, 1839, the Spanish schooner Amistad was sailing from Havana to Puerto Príncipe, Cuba, when the ship’s unwilling passengers, 53 slavesrecently abducted from Africa, revolted. Led by Joseph Cinqué, they killed the captain and the cook but spared the life of a Spanish navigator, so that he could sail them home to Sierra Leone. The navigator managed instead to sail the Amistad generally northward. Two months later the U.S. Navy seized the ship off Long Island, New York, and towed it into New LondonConnecticut. The mutineers were held in a jail in New Haven, Connecticut, a state in which slavery was legal.

The Spanish embassy’s demand for the return of the Africans to Cuba led to an 1840 trial in a Hartford, Connecticut, federal court. New Englandabolitionist Lewis Tappan stirred public sympathy for the African captives, while the U.S. government took the proslavery side. U.S. President Martin Van Buren ordered a Navy ship sent to Connecticut to return the Africans to Cuba immediately after the trial. A candidate for reelection that year, he anticipated a ruling against the defendants and hoped to gain proslavery votes by removing the Africans before abolitionists could appeal to a higher court.

Prosecutors argued that, as slaves, the mutineers were subject to the laws governing conduct between slaves and their masters. But trial testimony determined that while slavery was legal in Cuba, importation of slaves from Africa was not. Therefore, the judge ruled, rather than being merchandise, the Africans were victims of kidnapping and had the right to escape their captors in any way they could. When the U.S. government appealed the case before the U.S. Supreme Court the next year, congressman and former president John Quincy Adams argued eloquently for the Amistad rebels. The Supreme Court upheld the lower court, and private and missionary society donations helped the 35 surviving Africans secure passage home. They arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1842, along with five missionaries and teachers who intended to found a Christian mission.

Spain continued to insist that the United States pay indemnification for the Cuban vessel. The U.S. Congress intermittently debated the Amistad case, without resolution, for more than two decades, until the American Civil Warbegan in 1861.


Kimpa Vita: The Antonian Movement, Jesus is Congolese

Kimpa Vita (circa 1685-July 2, 1706), whose baptized name was Dona Beatriz, founded a religious sect known as the Antonians. The goal of this movement was to restore the fortunes of the once glorious kingdom of Kongo and to Africanize Christianity.

After October 1665, when the Portuguese had defeated the Kongo army, the capital San Salvador was abandoned and the ruling dynasty was split by rivalry between the Ki-Mpanza and the Ki-Nlaza families. Members of these families ruled at three different locations, San Salvador, Bula, 100 km (60 mi) northwest of San Salvador, and Kibangu, south of San Salvador near Ambriz. Within the context of the political confusion and moral despair which gripped the kingdom in the late 1600s and early 1700s, several religious figures arose wishing to reunify the state and instill hope in the people.

The most important prophet was the young Kimpa Vita, or Dona Beatriz, who believed she had received a visitation from the popular Saint Anthony. According to Kimpa Vita, Saint Anthony became incarnate in her body so that she actually was the saint. Compelled by the Christian God to announce his word and to restore the former Kongo capital San Salvador, Kimpa Vita began preaching in the ruined city.

Rejecting missionary domination over Christianity, Kimpa Vita taught that Jesus Christ actually had been born in San Salvador which she called Bethlehem, that he had been baptized at Nzundi, about 150 km (100 mi) north of the capital, which she named Nazareth, and that Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin Mary, and Saint Francis were black people of the Kongo. Furthermore, Kimpa Vita prophesied that God would punish the people if they did not immediately return to San Salvador. Initially most of the chiefs did not support her, but the common people, longing for unity and peace, joined the movement in great numbers. They believed that the Christian God was, at long last, responding to the plight of the Kongo kingdom and that he would provide great wealth for the inhabitants.

About the same time, Mpanzu Mvemba, or Pedro IV, who was the Mani Kibangu (ruler of Kibangu), gained recognition as Mani Kongo (ruler of the entire Kongo) and attempted to reunify the once powerful Kongo state. Thus, he sent his general Pedro Constantino with an army towards San Salvador to build villages and plant gardens in preparation for people to resettle the old capital. Hoping himself to gain control of a reunified Kongo, however, Constantino joined with Kimpa Vita against Pedro IV. Pedro IV, who did not want to lose control of his kingdom, came north from Kibangu to defeat the rebels.

Arrested with a baby, whom she claimed had been conceived with her guardian angel, Kimpa Vita was tried for crimes against the crown and the Christian faith. At the instigation of Capuchin missionaries, both she and the child were burned at the stake on July 2, 1706. Kimpa Vita played a major role in the renewal and reunification of the previously divided Kongo kingdom. Together with Mpanzu Mvemba or Pedro IV, she was responsible for briefly restoring the Kongo in the early 1700s. Although she died shortly after she began preaching, her politico-religious ideas inspired messianic movements struggling against colonial oppression and exploitation two centuries later. The prophet Simon Kimbangu has frequently been regarded as the spiritual and political descendant of the martyred Kimpa Vita.


Abdel Kader Kane: Moorish Abolitionist (1770s-1800s)

Abdel Kader Kane was a Moorish leader of the Futa Toro region in Northern Senegal is renowned for having resisted the slave trade.”

In the 18th century, Senegambia was bitterly contested for slave-trading purposes by France and Great Britain. But a third power, the Islamic theocracy of Futa Toro on the Senegal River, rose to prominence and opposed both foreign powers while seeking to put an end to the transatlantic slave trade and slavery.Among other compelling topics, Ware discussed the fierce resistance to the enslavement and deportation to the Americas of the so-called “Walking Qur’an”, the memorizers of the Holy Book; and how the Almamy –the Muslim ruler– Abdul Kader Kane of Futa Toro preceded Western abolitionists in his efforts to end the slave trade and slavery, and was acknowledged as a pioneer in that regard by British abolitionist Thomas Clarkson.”

“In 1776 they established the independent theocracy of Futa Toro. Kane was elected as almami, and in July the vibrant movement in the islamic states of Bundu and Futa Toro were determine to put an end to the selling of their coreligionists  and subjugated the French slave convoys.  in 1788, Abdel Kader Kane in particular was determined to make sure he was determined to force the law. A French slave convoy was stopped by his men and ultimately freed 90 men. Furthermore  the persistence of the French in the region he wrote a letter that would strike terror in the hearts of the people. The letter was directed to the governor in Saint-Louis, dated March 1789.”

“We are warning you that all those who will come to our land to trade in slaves will be killed or massacred if you do not send our children back. Would not somebody who was very hungry abstain from eating if he had to eat something cooked with his blood?  We absolutely do not want you to buy Muslims under any circumstances. I repeat that if your intention is to always buy Muslims you should stay home and not come to our country anymore. Because all those who will come can be assured that they will lose their life”


One of the toughest women ever to work in a convent: “Black Mary”

Mary Fields

Although she may have been one of the toughest women ever to work in a convent, ‘Black Mary’ had earned the respect and devotion of most of the residents of the pioneer community of Cascade, Montana, before she died in 1914. In fact, Mary Fields was widely beloved. She was admired and respected throughout the region for holding her own and living her own way in a world where the odds were stacked against her. In a time when African Americans and women of any race enjoyed little freedom anywhere in the world, Mary Fields enjoyed more freedom than most white men.

Fields dressed in the comfortable clothes of a man, including a wool cap and boots, and she wore a revolver strapped around her waist under her apron. At 200 pounds, she was said to be a match for any two men in Montana Territory. She had a standing bet that she could knock a man out with one punch, and she never lost a dime to anyone foolish enough to take her up on that bet. By order of the mayor, she was the only woman of reputable character in Cascade allowed to drink in the local bar, and while she enjoyed the privilege, she never drank to excess. She was often spotted smoking cigars in public, and she liked to argue politics with anyone.

Mary Fields started life as a slave in Hickman County, Tenn., in 1832. When she gained her freedom after the Civil War, she moved to Mississippi, where she worked on the steamboat Robert E. Lee as a chambermaid. She was on board during that boat’s race against Steamboat Bill’s Natchez in 1870, and she liked to relate her experience during that race when the crewmen tossed anything they could get their hands on—even barrels of resin and sides of ham and bacon—into the boiler while men sat on the relief valves to boost the steam pressure. “It was so hot up in the cabins that the passengers were forced to take to the decks,” she said, according to an article in the local Cascade Courier in 1914. “It was expected that the boilers would burst.”

Fields was the maid and childhood friend of an Ursuline sister named Mother Amadeus. When the sister served at the Ursuline convent in Toledo, Ohio, Fields joined her there. Later, Mother Amadeus was called to take a position at the new St. Peter’s Convent near what was to become Cascade, Montana, a small town that grew up on the new Montana Central railroad route between Helena and Great Falls. Mother Amadeus became ill with pneumonia in 1885 and called for Fields. Her longtime friend did not take long leaving Toledo for the West. As soon as Fields arrived at St. Peter’s Convent, she set about nursing Mother Amadeus back to health.

When Mother Amadeus was well, Fields stayed on to work at the convent. She handled the stage that brought visitors from the train station, where she would often spend the night waiting for her passengers. She also hauled critical supplies for the convent. She alone handled the wagon team that hauled the goods, no matter what the weather or road conditions. One winter night, a pack of wolves spooked her horses and the wagon overturned. Fields stood guard and protected the food shipment from the wolves through the night, knowing how much the nuns depended on the supplies to survive.

Although the sisters tried their best to smooth Fields’ rough edges by inviting her to participate in services and practice her Catholic faith, Fields preferred the rougher company of the men who worked around the convent. She drank and swore with the best of them, fought them with her formidable fists, smoked cigars, swapped stories and became a crack shot with revolver and rifle. She also worked as hard as she played. At the convent she washed clothes and sacristy linen, cared for as many as 400 chickens, and tended large gardens for the sisters.

Father Landesmith, the chaplain at nearby Fort Keough, visited St. Peter’s in 1887. He was charmed by Fields when she insisted on retelling her account of her battle with a skunk that had invaded the coop and killed more than 60 baby chicks. She dragged the dead skunk more than a mile to display her trophy to the sisters and visiting chaplain. When the sisters asked her how she avoided getting sprayed by the skunk, she explained that she was careful to make a frontal assault.

A near disaster occurred when the sisters decided to return Fields’ favors and do her chores while she was away. They did the laundry themselves without any problems, but then they decided to burn a small pile of Fields’ trash. The fire ignited some loose cartridges, and one nun, Sister Gertrude, was wounded above one eye. They were happy when Fields returned.

When the sisters moved from their log cabins to a new stone building, Fields personally moved the possessions of Mother Superior Amadeus, hauling them in a wheelbarrow. Fields continued to do her chores at the convent for 10 years, and probably would have stayed there for the rest of her life had she been allowed. But she was not. Her wild ways outside the convent finally caught up with her. After Bishop Brondell, the first Catholic bishop in Montana, received complaints about her, he told the convent that Mary Fields must leave.

One account tells of a gun duel that she had, although no details are available. Then there were the fistfights, most of which she won. During one trip to a ranch, Fields got into a heated debate over a harness. She used a small rock to emphasize her point, and ended up making a dent in the head of the ranch foreman.

Fields traveled to the state capital, Helena, to plead her case. She demanded that she be allowed to confront her accusers, but Bishop Brondell told her that nothing would change his mind. She would have to leave St. Peter’s. Unable to resist the will of her bishop, Mother Amadeus did the next best thing. She moved Fields into nearby Cascade and secured the mail route for her between Cascade and the convent. Mother Amadeus even bought her friend a wagon and a team of horses for the new route. Mary Fields became only the second woman in the country to manage a mail route. She took to her new job, sticking with it for the next eight years.

On one mail run to the convent, she was badly injured when her horse team got out of control. When she finally arrived at the convent, she was repentant for having let the horses get away from her. The sisters used the opportunity to once again encourage her to attend Mass. Some of the sisters must have been surprised when Fields agreed to come the following day. One of them stayed up most of the night to fashion a special blue challis dress and long white veil that she could wear for the special occasion.

In 1903, her longtime friend and mentor Mother Amadeus was sent to Alaska to establish another mission. Fields, now 70, was devastated. Mother Angelina, who succeeded Mother Amadeus at St. Peter’s, was kind to Fields, but it was small comfort after such a sorrowful separation.

Mary Fields finally gave up her mail route and settled into town life. The people of Cascade thought so much of her that on her birthday they would close the local school in her honor. She would then buy candy and treats for the children. Not that Fields had mellowed all that much with age. She made her living by taking in laundry at her home, while continuing to frequent local drinking establishments. One day, while drinking in a local bar, she spotted a man walking by on the street. She stepped outside for a better look. Indeed, it was a man who owed her $2 for an unpaid laundry bill. She followed him down the street and grabbed the collar of the shirt she had not been paid for cleaning. Then she punched him. She returned to the bar and declared, “His laundry bill is paid.” Fields also ran an eating house that did poorly because she would extend credit to anyone who expressed a need. Sheepherders would ask her to wait for payment for meals in the winter until they were working again the following summer. She went broke twice trying to make a go of the restaurant business.

Still, she had her friends. She was always welcome in the local hotel. In 1910, when R.B. Glover leased the New Cascade Hotel from Kirk Huntley, a stipulation to the transaction was that all meals for Mary Fields would be offered free of charge for the rest of her life. When her laundry business and her home burned down in 1912, the townspeople gathered and built her a new home.

Mary Fields adopted the Cascade baseball team as her own. For each game she prepared buttonhole bouquets of flowers for each player from her own garden, with larger bouquets reserved for home-run hitters. Any man speaking ill of the local team in her presence could expect a bouquet of knuckles in his face.

Fields babysat most of the children in the area for $1.50 an hour and then spent most of the money she earned buying treats for the children. It was during this time that a small boy visiting from nearby Dearborn, Mont., noticed her. The young boy, a Montana native named Gary Cooper, would later remember her fondly in a story he wrote about her in 1959 for Ebony magazine, toward the end of his acting career and his life. Cooper died in 1961.

Charlie Russell, the cowboy artist, lived in Cascade for a brief time, and he featured Mary Fields in an 1897 pen-and-ink drawing he composed called A Quiet Day in Cascade,which shows her being knocked down by a hog and spilling a basket of chicken eggs.

Sensing that she was close to death in 1914, and not wanting to become a burden on her friends, Fields tried to steal away quietly with some blankets to die in the tall weeds near her small, two-room house. Lester Munroe and his three brothers were playing nearby, and they found Fields, who had babysat all of them, lying there in the weeds. She was taken to the Columbus Hospital in Great Falls.

When she died a few days later, there was no shortage of pallbearers for the tough but kind black woman who had befriended generations of local children. She was buried in a small cemetery alongside the road between Cascade and St. Peter’s Mission that she had traveled so many times during her life.


Queen Nzinga – The fearsome warrior

Njinga Mbandi (also known as Nzinga and Ana Njinga) was born around 1582, the oldest daughter of Mbandi a Ngola Kiluanji, king of Ndongo (present-day central Angola). Early in her life, Njinga exhibited great physical prowess, which her father fostered by allowing her to train with the army. Displaying extraordinary charisma and physical prowess at a young age, he also groomed her for leadership, allowing her to sit in court sessions alongside him at a young age. This training was essential since, throughout her childhood, Portuguese forces attempted to invade Ndongo and enslaved hundreds of thousands of Ndongo’s subjects. Those who were taken by the Portuguese either labored in Portuguese Angola or were absorbed into the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

When Mbande a Ngola died (ca. 1617), his son Ngola Mbandi became king. Between 1619 and 1621, the kingdom of Ndongo faced increasing pressure from the colony of Angola, as Portuguese-led forces attacked under the leadership of Governor Luis Mendes de Vasconcelos, forcing Mbandi to move his kingdom to the Kidonga Islands. Mbandi sent Njinga, then 22, to Luanda to negotiate a peace treaty with the Portuguese. During this trip, Njinga made a huge impression on João Correa de Sousa, the governor of Luanda, when she refused to sit on the floor before him as was the custom for Africans. Instead, Njinga commanded one of her servants to kneel on all fours and sat on the servant as a human chair. She also agreed to be baptized during this trip, perhaps to garner favor with the colonialists, taking the Christian name Ana de Sousa. Njinga and de Sousa negotiated a peace treaty in which the Portuguese agreed to withdraw their forces and assist Ndongo in pushing back mercenaries attacking the kingdom.

This peace was short-lived as relations between Ndongo and the Portuguese deteriorated. Njinga’s brother, the king Ngola Mbandi, committed suicide in 1622, leaving Njinga in charge as regent for his young son; she became queen in 1624 when Mbandi’s heir was killed, reportedly by Njinga herself. From the time she took the throne in 1624 until her death in 1663, Njinga continued to negotiate with Portuguese authorities, although these attempts were largely unsuccessful. In the late 1620s, the Portuguese sided with dissidents of Ndongo who rejected Njinga’s claim to the throne, instead promoting Hari a Ngola, a rival leader who challenged Njinga rights to the throne. This move by the Portuguese resulted in prolonged conflicts between Njinga and the Portuguese and their local allies.

Although she struggled to regain her hold over Ndongo, Njinga conquered the neighboring kingdoms of Kidonga and Matamba in the mid-1630s. She entered into a partnership with the Dutch West India Company following their occupation of Luanda in 1641, utilizing this alliance to fend off conflict with the Portuguese. With Dutch help?, Njinga defeated the Portuguese army that attacked her capital in Matamba in 1644. Although Njinga’s forces and the Dutch held off the Portuguese from 1641- to 1648, the Portuguese ultimately regained their hold following the arrival of reinforcements from Brazil and pushed Njinga back to Matamba. After negotiations, the Portuguese eventually signed a peace treaty with Njinga in 1657 which recognized her claim to rule, delineated the territory under her control, agreed to disband the Imbangala (warrior founders of the Kasanje Kingdom), and stipulated that she would allow missionaries into her territory. Njinga spent the remainder of her reign arranging for her succession and defending her kingdom against the Imbangala of Kasanje to the east. Following her death on December 17, 1663, her sister Barbara succeeded to the throne.

Njinga quickly gained notoriety amongst Portuguese onlookers, both for her ferocious stance against the imposition of Portuguese colonialism as well as her fierce rejection of gendered norms. Njinga’s sexuality scandalized the Portuguese, as she kept both male and female concubines, married multiple husbands, dressed as a man and insisted on being referred to as king and not queen. Njinga also gained notoriety during this period for her involvement in the slave trade. As a result of the conflicts during her reign, Njinga’s forces took hundreds of thousands of captives, allowing the queen to sell nearly 200,000 slaves to the Portuguese. Njinga’s memory is preserved in the traditions of black Brazilians and Afro-Portuguese descendants worldwide. In particular, Njinga is remembered among Afro-Brazilians descended in part from Angolan slaves who each year celebrate her legend by electing a King of Kongo and a Queen Njinga each year, and dedicating floats and sing praises to her during the Rio Carnival. In 2013, the Angolan government commemorated the 350th anniversary of Njinga’s death by erecting a statue in her honor in Luanda.


King Amador – Resistance to the Portuguese enslavement.


Amador led a major slave revolt in 1595 on the island of São Tomé that came close to overthrowing Portuguese colonial authority. Amador’s date of birth is unknown, but he was born on São Tomé.
São Tomé was uninhabited when the Portuguese arrived on the island around 1471. Beginning in 1493, Portuguese colonists established sugarcane plantations on the island. To work on these plantations, the Portuguese brought slaves from nearby parts of Africa. Over the course of the sixteenth century, sugar became dominant throughout São Tomé. However, slaves on the island did not passively accept their fate. They frequently ran away, establishing maroon communities in nearby mountainous forests. From these communities, they attacked plantations and the town of São Tomé. In response, Portuguese authorities created a militia to fight these runaway slave communities and protect the European settlers. During the late sixteenth century, the sugar industry in São Tomé became less important with the rise of sugar production in Brazil. Divisions between the governor, the bishop, and the town council created political instability.
Amador took advantage of political tension to lead his revolt. On July 9, 1595, Amador and two other slaves, Lazaro and Domingo, led a group of slaves into the parish church in the town of Trindade and killed Portuguese men attending Catholic Mass. In the following days, an increasing number of slaves attacked plantations and burned sugar mills and plantation houses. On July 11, the militia and rebels fought again, resulting in the death of three Portuguese. Another battle followed on July 14, and the slaves fled. Amador proclaimed himself the king of São Tomé, and organized his runaway slave army into four units. Each unit attacked a key area of the town of São Tomér, but the Portuguese militia pushed the slaves back.
Amador’s army continued to attack the town for the next two weeks. With an army reportedly containing five thousand slaves, Amador waged one last assault on the town on July 28. Over two hundred soldiers died during this assault, including Lazaro, one of Amador’s commanders. The Portuguese governor offered clemency to any slave who surrendered, and more than four thousand accepted his offer on July 29.
Eventually, one of Amador’s confidantes betrayed him and Amador was arrested. On August 14, 1595, the Portuguese hung and quartered Amador and placed his heart on a pillow. Amador’s slave revolt was one of the greatest slave uprisings in Atlantic history. His army had destroyed most of the island’s sugar mills, and accelerated the movement of plantations away from São Tomé to Brazil before its eventual overthrow.
After São Tomé and the neighboring island of Príncipe gained independence in 1975, the government proclaimed Amador a national hero of the anti-colonial struggle. In 1976, the São Tomé and Príncipe government replaced the Portuguese escudo with a new currency, the dobra, and incorporated Amador’s portrait in the country’s currency. No images of Amador exist so a local artist created a portrait of him. In 2004, the National Assembly of São Tomé declared January 4 a national holiday in honor of Amador, and United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan inaugurated a statue of Amador in São Tomé.


Solitude – La mulatresse solitude

La mulatresse Solitude: the first black woman’s honoured with a statue erected in Paris

Commonly remembered in Guadeloupe as “la mulâtresse Solitude” (“Solitude the Mulatto Woman”), Solitude has become a legendary figure in the antislavery struggles of Caribbean blacks in the early nineteenth century. Her extreme courage made her legendary and prompted whites to caricature her as mad.

While details about Solitude’s life are few, her existence has been authenticated in historical accounts of the abolition and re-establishment of slavery in the French Empire during the 1790s and 1800s. Speculation places Solitude’s birth around 1772, possibly the product of the rape of her African mother by a white sailor on a ship bound for Guadeloupe.

At the time of her birth, Guadeloupe was a French colony reliant on enslaved African labor. Solitude is thought to have escaped slavery with her mother (who died when she was eight) and lived as a Maroon during her adolescence.

The news of the 1794 proclamation of the abolition of slavery in the French empire soon reached the colonies, and slaves left plantations in droves. In the early months of 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte answered planter complaints by sending a large military expedition to restore order and reimpose slavery. A number of officers of color in the French Republican Army, including Louis Delgrès and Joseph Ignace, rejected the official French decision and led a vigorous resistance against the re-imposition of slavery in Guadeloupe.

Solitude played an active role in the armed resistance, bearing arms in the battle of  May 8, 1802. Women participated as combatants and also inspired the men to greater feats of resistance and valor. Though pregnant, Solitude participated in all the battles in the Dolé post. She was particularly prone to expressing her rage against prisoners taken by the resistance fighters. Solitude kept rabbits and once caught one that escaped, speared it with a skewer, and showed it to the prisoners, saying “Look, this is how I’m going to treat you when the time comes.”

On May 22, 1802, a furious attack forced the black resistance troops in Fort Saint-Charles to retreat. Solitude was wounded in the ensuing conflict and eventually captured and condemned to death along with a band of insurgents. However, because of her pregnancy, Solitude’s execution was delayed until she gave birth. On November 29, 1802, the day after she delivered her child, Solitude was hanged. Solitude’s key role in the fight against slavery has been commemorated in Guadeloupean memory through fiction and the construction of two statues.


Phillis Wheatley

Poet, considered a founder of African American literature, was born around 1753, probably among the Fulani peoples living near the Gambia River in West Africa. Her poetry and prose indicate familiarity with animistic ancestor worship, solar worship, Islam, and an African consciousness she brought to North America after she was captured aged 7 or 8, enslaved, and forced aboard the Phillis, a brigantine owned by Timothy Fitch of Medford, Massachusetts and captained by Peter Gwinn of Boston. According to the Slave Voyages Database, she embarked from the Windward Coast of Africa with 95 fellow Africans and was one of 76 who survived the deprivations of the ship’s cramped and squalid conditions and arrived in Boston 245 days later, wearing only a scrap of carpet. On 11 July 1761, she was sold on the block “for a trifle” to John and Susanna Wheatley, prominent Bostonians who named her after the slave ship that brought her to America. Her name was thus a constant reminder of her enslavement and suffering during the Middle Passage.

Seeing Phillis attempt to write, the Wheatleys encouraged her to read and write, first in English, then Latin. At age 12 she published her first poem in a local newspaper, but many Bostonians doubted that a young African woman could craft such reasoned and elegant poetry. She successfully defended her intelligence and literary skills before an inquisition by New England’s finest minds, but still failed to find a local publisher for a collection of her poetry. Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, the first book written by a sub-Saharan African in English, was therefore published by the Countess of Huntingdon in London in 1773. An overnight sensation in Europe, Wheatley was feted as a prodigy by London’s literati. Returning to Boston, she was granted her freedom, and continued to write poetry, including one honoring George Washington. But her fame was fleeting. A proposed second poetry collection was sold off by her husband, John Peters, a pintlesmith who was perhaps born free, and who abandoned her. Wheatley suffered from asthma (a legacy of the Middle Passage) and the death of three children, before dying in poverty and obscurity, aged 31, in 1784.

Phillis Wheatley was an inspiring example to nineteenth-century African American writers such as Ann Plato, Frances E.W. Harper, Jarena Lee, and Alice Dunbar Nelson. In the view of scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr., she is the mother of African American letters. She was a polyglot who knew English, Fulani, possibly some Arabic (she was observed soon after her purchase to be making strange, though indecipherable markings on a wall), and Latin. From West Africa to New England to England, she negotiated with considerable success the mixture of white cultures and languages which encircled the Atlantic. She was thus a fine example of what historians such as Ira Berlin, Linda Heywood, and John Thornton have classified as Atlantic Creoles.

RUFINA – Illegally enslaved twice

An African woman illegally enslaved twice, first in Africa and then in Uruguay. Although it cannot be known precisely, it is likely that Rufina was born between 1820 and 1825, and that she gave birth to a daughter, Francisca, when she was between 15 and 20 years of age. After being kidnapped in northern Uruguay and brought to the Brazilian Empire, she succeeded in bringing her case to the provincial president of Rio Grande do Sul, who ruled for her release and her return to Uruguay.

In March 1854, Rufina, a free African Mina woman residing in Passo de Peira (near the Río Negro in Tacuarembó, Uruguay, on the border with Brazil) was kidnapped along with her partner, Matheus, also a free African Mina, and four of their children: Francisca (14 years old), Maria do Pilar and Pantaleão (ages unknown), and a newborn, Brum. Her other two children, Ignácio and Catharina (ages unknown), were with a neighbor at the time of her abduction. Rufina and the others were taken by a group of four men led by Fermiano José de Mello. After walking for a whole night, one of the kidnappers separated from the group, taking Matheus, while the others continued with Rufina and her children.

After three weeks of walking during the night and hiding in the brush during the day, Rufina and her children arrived in Canguçu, where they were delivered to Joaquim da Silva Soares. Two months later, Rufina, Francisca, and Brum were sold to José Laurindo da Costa, while Maria do Pilar and Pantaleão were sold to the city of Piratini.

It is not clear how Rufina managed to reach the police, but somehow while passing through Porto Alegre she caught the attention of the authorities, and she was imprisoned with her two children and her captor, Laurindo José da Costa. The latter was released soon thereafter on the false promise that he would return with his papers of ownership of Rufina. Once Laurindo was gone, Rufina and Francisca told the story of their capture. Rufina explained that she had been a slave of Colonel José Cabral and his wife Francisca, and that she had been freed with the abolition of slavery in Uruguay in 1846.

This would have been the second illegal enslavement of the African Rufina. As Rufina later told the judge, she remembered arriving in Uruguay at a time when slavery was still legal, and it is probable that her arrival in the Americas took place sometime in the early 1830s. As Rufina called herself a Mina, we can believe that she was shipped somewhere off the coast of West Africa, most likely in Lagos (present-day Nigeria), the main exporting port of the region after 1825. This is north of the equator, where the trafficking of slaves had been prohibited since 1815, due to British pressure on Portugal and Spain during the Congress of Vienna.

After 1850, with the prohibition of the Atlantic slave trade to Brazil, bush captains and slave raiders tried to capture and then sell free blacks, including those who resided outside of Brazilian territory. The British were informed by the Uruguayans of a new form of enslavement and human trafficking on the southern border of the Brazilian Empire. Once seized by the police in the province of Rio Grande do Sul, then, Rufina became the subject of intense correspondence between authorities in Uruguay, Brazil, and England.

To prove to the British that the abolition of slavery was being enforced in an exemplary fashion, Brazilian foreign minister Paulino José Soares de Souza (1807–1866) and João Luis Vieira Cansansão de Sinimbu (1810–1906), president of Rio Grande do Sul Province, made every effort to locate Rufina’s two sons and to return them to Uruguay. In 1855 the entire family—with the exception of Matheus, who was never found—was returned home.

The story of Rufina is one of dozens of criminal cases of kidnapping and enslavement of free people that occurred on the Brazilian border with Uruguay in the second half of the nineteenth century, mostly in the 1850s and 1860s. But while Rufina was eventually able to return to her home, her case was an exception. Most captured blacks remained slaves in Brazil. Almost all cases ended with the acquittal of the kidnappers by popular jury, which demonstrates the deep roots of slavery in nineteenth-century Brazilian society.