The Freedom Schooner Amistad Letterbox  LbNA # 13585 (ARCHIVED)

Placed DateFeb 26 2005
LocationEast Hartford, CT
Planted ByWild Rover    
Found By WWW
Last Found Aug 8 2007
Hike Distance?

Great River Park, East Hartford
easy; stroller accessible)

***Box went missing Winter 2005-2006.Sorry.--WILD ROVER***

In August 1839, reports of a mysterious schooner of distinctive Baltimore clipper lines “with her sails nearly all blown to pieces” began circulating around the waterfronts of New York and New England. The vessel had requested food and water from several passing ships, who described it as a “long, low, black schooner” manned by twenty-five to thirty Africans. Some of the ships occupants went ashore on the eastern tip of Long Island to trade for food and supplies, and attempted to negotiate for local seamen to take the crew back to Africa.

The vessel turned out to be the AMISTAD, a topsail schooner some 64 feet in length and weighing some 60 tons dry, of wooden construction built in Baltimore in 1839. The AMISTAD, whose name is Spanish for “friendship” was a coastal slave-trading vessel of Cuban registry that had embarked 53 newly purchased slaves in Havana to sail to Puerto Principe on June 28, 1839. During the three day sail the slaves seized the ship and ordered their captors to steer the AMISTAD eastward toward Africa, but a gale drove the ship northeast along the United States coastline. The ship followed a zigzag course for two months until eventually she drifted off Long Island in August 1839.

On August 26, 1839 the AMISTAD and her “crew” were seized by the United States survey brig WASHINGTON under the command of Lt. Commander Thomas Gedney near Culloden Point off the eastern tip of Long Island. Gedney towed the Amistad and her “crew” to New London where, because slavery was still legal in Connecticut, he could claim salvage on the ship and her “cargo” including the slaves who had been purchased for $450.00 each in Havana.

A massive legal battle ensued wherein the Spanish owners of the slaves argued that the “cargo” should be handed over to the Spanish Consul, and the slaves charged with mutiny and murder in a Spanish court. Gedney in turn sought compensation for the salvage on behalf of himself and his crew (which he eventually won), arguing that although slavery was legal in Spain, the trafficking of slaves had been outlawed in 1817. The abolitionist movement joined the fray, arguing that the Spaniards were guilty of piracy for engaging in the slave trade, and sought the freeing of the slaves to allow them to return to their homes in Africa. While awaiting trial the Africans were put into custody in the county jail in New Haven, where the “Amistads” became a huge attraction. As many as 5,000 people a day visited the jail, where the jailer charged “one New York Shilling” (about 12 cents) for a close look at the captives.

The trial began on September 17, 1839 in State Circuit Court in Hartford, but the judge found that the State Court had no jurisdiction because the alleged mutiny and murders occurred in international waters, and transferred the case to Federal District Court, also in Hartford. The Federal trial began on November 19, 1839 in Hartford, and on January 19,1840 the Judge announced his decision that the AMISTAD captives were “born free” and kidnapped in violation of international law; that they had mutinied out of a “desire of winning their liberty and returning to their families and kindred”; and therefore he ordered that they be returned to Africa. The case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court who, on March 9, 1841, went further than the District Court and declared the Africans to be “unequivocally free”: they could stay in America or the could return to Africa.

In November of 1841 the ship GENTLEMAN was chartered for $1,840.00 to return all 35 surviving Amistads to West Africa. None chose to stay in America, and only one ever returned – Sarah, who attended Oberlin College.

Amistad America, Inc. is a national, non-profit educational organization founded in 1996 that built a re-creation of the historic vessel at Mystic Seaport using traditional skills and traditional construction techniques common to wooden schooners built in the 19th century. The Freedom Schooner Amistad was launched from Mystic Seaport on March 8, 1998, one day before the 157th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of the Amistad Africans. The Freedom Schooner Amistad visits ports nationally and internationally as an ambassador for friendship and goodwill. It also serves as a floating classroom, icon, and monument to the millions of souls that were broken or lost as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. See for a listing of her scheduled ports of call to visit the Freedom Schooner Amistad.

Note: The Freedom Schooner Amistad letterbox was planted in February in honor of Black History Month. The stamp is that of a top-sail Baltimore schooner the likeness of the AMISTAD. Good luck, and thanks for looking! ---Wild Rover


Great River Park is on East River Drive, and is the site of the East Hartford boat launch. It is easily accessible from both Route 2 and I-84, and is between the Founders Bridge and the Charter Oak Bridge on the East side of the Connecticut River. There is ample parking in Great River Park, except when boat trailers begin to abound, and the D.E.P. Park Rangers on both foot and bicycle insure the Park is extremely safe. MayEve’s “Blue Onion” letterbox is nearby, also in Great River Park, as is Bill & Craig’s “Riverfront Trail” letterbox. Bill & Craig list these directions to Great River Park: “Great River Park: From I84 Westbound, take exit 54 towards downtown Hartford, then exit 3. At end of ramp turn left onto Darlin street and another left onto East River Drive. Follow for less then a mile to the park entrance on your right. From I84 East bound, take exit 53 and follow signs for East River Drive. Right off the ramp onto East River Drive and follow for about 3/4 of a mile to the park entrance on your right.”


Park anywhere in the Great River Park parking lot and head in a general southerly direction down the paved path that follows the eastern bank of the Connecticut River. You will be heading downstream, away from the Founders Bridge and toward the Charter Oak Bridge. If you look upstream across the river you can see the site where the Freedom Schooner Amistad docks when she visits Hartford.

Continue to follow the paved path past the East Hartford Magnet Middle School off to the distance on your left, and past the garrison of brick benches to the right. Soon you will come to the tributary where the Hockanum River meets the Connecticut River [ergo "Two Rivers"]. Continue to follow the trail to the left, now following the bank of the Hockanum River. Pass a stairwell on the right that drops to the river’s edge, providing access to canoes and kayaks, and continue on to a “cul-de-sac” that is somewhat of a trail crossroads. To the left is a trail to the Magnet School, and straight ahead is the trailhead of the Meadow Hill Trail section of the Hockanum River Linear Park, but you want to go to the right over the blue footbridge. The sides of the bridge are adorned with ornate medallions denoting East Hartford’s rich history. At the far end of the bridge there is a medallion honoring Pratt & Whitney Aircraft on the left. Stand with your back to the aircraft and look across the bridge to the First Congregational Church, East Hartford's first Town Hall. Look beyond the Church to its very foundation (and to that of the bridge) to find the Freedom Schooner Amistad Letterbox betwixt the vines, and between a pipe and a hard place. It can be accessed from above, but for the adventurous it is more easily accessible from below. Please re-hide well.


{Footnotes to follow}

Thanks are extended to my daughter Krusty Krab (Gillian, age 5), and to my sister MayEve, for braving the cold to help me plant this letterbox. Thanks are also extended to Bell Lady, who had already planted the "Amistad Letterbox" in Farmington, and who gave her blessing to the planting of this box. I hope you find it, like it and enjoy it! --WR

P.S. If you want a laugh, ask me (or MayEve) about the ORIGINAL hiding spot for this box, and why it was yanked out of there.