The Africans were in jail in New Haven, Connecticut. How could they tell their side of the story? They could not speak English, and for a while there was no one who spoke Mende. Stories passed down through ASL say Gallaudet and Clerc went to meet with Sengbe in prison. They communicated through gestures, which are used in the Mende language as well.
A former instructor at the New York School for the Deaf, George E. Day, was teaching at Yale. He went to the jail 4 hours every day to teach them English. He could easily communicate with them using gestures and signs. He used Gallaudet's book, Lessons for Deaf and Dumb, to teach them.
The Africans used gestures naturally as part of their communication. They explained their story to Gallaudet, Clerc and Day. Day worked with Josiah Gibbs from Yale who identified the language as Mende. When James Covey, a Mende interpreter, was found, their spoken account matched what they had, in gestures, explained of their plight.
Gallaudet, Dr. Cogswell, the Beecher family, and Lydia Sigourney were all opposed to slavery and very supportive of the black community through charitable works. Gallaudet, who was a minister as well as one of the founders of ASD, was involved in the Union Missionary Society which sponsored the Africans.
A freed slave, "Ole Lyd", was abandoned by her master and later lived with the Cogswell family. Dr. Cogswell saved her life, caring for her when she was sick with lockjaw, and let her live with his family. Dr. Cogswell paid her wages. Ole Lyd had a silver watch which was a rare thing. She later willed it to the Cogswell children. The Cogswell family considered Ole Lyd as part of their family. She was one of Alice Cogswell's favorite people.
Other Interesting Connections!
Theodore Dwight Weld and Lewis Tappan were abolitionist leaders. Theodore's brother, Lewis Weld, was the second principal of ASD and Alice Cogswell's brother-in-law.
John Quincy Adams defended the Africans and won their freedom. He was a neighbor and friend of George H. Loring, who was one of the first students enrolled at ASD.
Many stories from ASD students about the Africans have been passed down from generation to generation 'orally' through ASL. They match other accounts that had been written by people involved in the Amistad incident.