Archival Fragment of the Amistad Revolt

Sometimes the best cure for archive fever is to share it with the world.

“Pa Raymond,” Sierra Leone Mission Album, box 2, p. 122, Records of the United Brethren in Christ Foreign Missionary Society, United Methodist Archives, Drew University.
I was reminded of the mundane joys of the archive again several months ago when, thanks to a tip from a colleague, I located an extremely rare photograph of one of the survivors of the Amistad slave revolt in the United Methodist Archives in New Jersey. It is difficult to tell whether the old man,┬ácalled “Pa Raymond” on the reverse of the photo, is the real deal, but circumstantial evidence suggests that he might be Kale Walu, or “Little Kale,” who was just a boy when he was abducted and enslaved in West Africa in 1839. Kale (also spelled Kali or Carly) was the author of the famous “crazy dolts” letter, addressed to John Quincy Adams on the eve of their trial in the United States Supreme Court. He assumed the name George Lewis when he returned to Africa in 1842, part of an ongoing project to reinvent former slaves as anglicized Christians. As one of the youngest among the returning group, he was something of a surrogate son for abolitionist missionary William Raymond and may have taken his surname later in life. Pa is Krio for “father,” an honorific title for village elders.

The photo was probably taken sometime in the early 20th century by the United Brethren in Christ, who had inherited an abolitionist outpost, called the “Mendi Mission,” in what is now southwestern Sierra Leone. Almost all of the photos in the collection date from after the rebellion of 1898. When Canadian missionary Alexander Banfield encountered a man claiming to be an Amistad veteran during a tour of Sierra Leone in 1917 (likely the same man in this photo), he estimated the man was about 100 years old. Although my work does not really focus on the Amistad captives (I’m interested in the larger story of American abolitionists in Africa), it is bracing to look into the eyes of this man. Sole survivor. Adopted son of the missionary, traveling barefoot through the bush. White-haired patriarch, holding something mysterious with his right hand. What have those eyes seen? Where are they looking now?

Thanks to the generous (and underpaid and understaffed) archivists in New Jersey and the embattled public domain laws of the United States, I am able to share this treasure with the world (I think) for the first time. It belongs to the world. I am just returning it.

About Joseph Yannielli

I study the history of slavery and abolition, with a special focus on America, West Africa, and the wider world during the nineteenth century. I began this site as a graduate student in the Department of History at Yale University. I have participated in discussions around the burgeoning field of Digital Humanities, and I use technology to enhance my research and my teaching. I have also served as the manager and lead developer for a few projects, such as the Yale Slavery and Abolition Portal and RunawayCT.

2 thoughts on “Archival Fragment of the Amistad Revolt

  1. Hello, I read your description of the “Pa Raymond” picture with interest. I have visited the site of the Mendi Mission (back in 1973) when I was living with my parents in Sierra Leone. My parents were serving with the church — originally in Guinea but were transferred to Sierra Leone briefly in the early 70’s. Imagine our surprise that some long lost/forgotten family history came to light revealing that my Mom’s great-great-grandfather had been a missionary to Sierra Leone in the 1840’s…and died and was buried in the south of the country! And here we are living in the same small country when this history was uncovered. After Mom thoroughly researched the Amistad related events and had discovered that our great-great grandfather went as the first missionary (one of two) appointed by the American Missionary Association (after the original 5 Americans appointed by the Amistad Committee to accompany the Amistad captives upon their release had either returned to the US or died, as was the case with Rev. Raymond), and that he had died and was buried at Kaw Mendi, we went on a family expedition to discover his grave. We found the old abandoned mission station all overgrown with bamboo, but still remembered as “Little America” by the villagers in the neighboring town. Very significant event in my young life!

  2. Hey Andy – that’s really cool.

    I’ve been researching the Mendi Mission for the past few years and spent part of last year at Kaw-Mendi (or “Komende,” as it’s called now) and “America.” The locals were incredibly generous and eager to trade stories. It was a great experience. I would love to hear more about your ancestor and your mother’s research.

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