In October 1800, Lahy Ganges indentured himself to Enos Eldridge for a term of four years. This places his birth some time before 1783, given the Abolition Society’s practice of indenturing First Ganges males for 4 years or to age 21, whichever came first. Thus, Lahy was 17 or older at the beginning of his indenture.[i]
The indenture describes Eldridge as a farmer of Darby Township, Delaware County. Deed records of the time variously describe him as a yeoman or grazier – a person who “rears or fattens cattle and sheep for market.”
Around 1798, Eldridge removed from his farm in Newton Township, Gloucester County, NJ to Darby Township, Delaware County, leasing a 46 acre farm on the west bank of Cobbs Creek, near the Blue Bell Inn. In May 1800, he bought the property from Benjamin Paschall for $2,000[ii] and then sold it 4 years later to Jacob Gibbons for $3,700.[iii] The previous November, Eldridge had tried to auction the farm, providing this picturesque description to prospective buyers:
A valuable Plantation, situate on the line of Philadelphia and Delaware counties, near the Blue Bell inn, and near the great Southern road. Seven miles from the city of Philadelphia – containing about 46 acres of land. The farm is well divided into small fields with new post fence of chestnut timber; all the lots are well watered by a stream running through the same. There is a sufficiency of the best thriving timber for fuel and fencing; there are about twelve acres well set with timothy and clover feed, a young orchard of one hundred apple trees of the best grafted fruit, with a variety pf other fruit trees, such as cherry peaches, plumb, &c. – The buildings are two story stone dwelling house and kitchen, a new stone barn and carriage house forty-four by thirty five feet. With cellars under the whole and stalls for 224 creatures, a well of excellent water at the door with a pump therein, a garden well set with flowers and shrubs, newly pailed in. There is on said place one of the best stone quarries in the neighborhood. The situation is worth a citizen’s attention as a country seat, it being a healthy situation. Any person willing to purchase may view the premises, by applying to Enos Eldridge, living thereon.[iv]
Like any real estate advertisement, this description probably stretches the truth, but it appears that Eldridge made considerable improvements during his ownership.[v] This is a possible location where Lahy worked off his indenture to Eldridge, perhaps caring for livestock, laboring in the quarry, or constructing the new barn and carriage house.
Enos Eldridge owned or leased other properties during the period of Lahy’s indenture. In 1798, he was leasing 20 acres on Tinicum Island from Thomas Proctor.[vi] In 1801, for $50, he bought the entirety (100 acres) of Maiden Island, located in the Delaware River just south of Fort Mifflin.[vii] Eldridge’s wife, Agnes, had also inherited land on Petty’s Island and the Delaware shoreline in Newton Township, Gloucester County.[viii] Given their location, all these properties would have been subject to regular flooding, so would probably have been used for grazing livestock and Lahy may have devoted time here as well.
This is about as far as we can take Lahy’s story based solely on what can be inferred from his original indenture. Searches for him under this name in the usual census, city directory, and vital records come up empty. However, there is a significant clue to be found in an unexpected place – ironically — the records of another slave ship incident, that of La Amistad, nearly forty years after Lahy’s indenture.
In August 1839, the Spanish/Cuban slaving schooner La Amistad was brought into the port of New Haven, Connecticut in the custody of the USS Washington, which seized her off the coast of Long Island with 53 Africans aboard. The Africans had been recently kidnapped in Africa, enslaved, brought to Havana via the Middle Passage, sold and — accompanied by their new owners — shipped aboard La Amistad for work on sugar plantations a few days sail from Havana.
Around July 1, 1839, off the coast of Cuba, the Africans escaped their bonds, killed the captain and cook and seized control of the vessel. They spared their owners’ lives in exchange for navigation back to Sierra Leone, their point of origin. The owners, however, by sailing slowly eastward during the day and hard and fast to the northwest at night, managed to make landfall at Long Island instead.
The incident caused a public sensation as abolitionist and pro-slavery factions wrestled for control of the narrative. Were the Africans free? Was it murder or self-defense? Early on, the story tended to favor the pro-slavery faction because the Spanish owners’ side of the story could be translated and published with relative ease. Not so for the Africans. Although they were ethnically diverse and spoke multiple African languages, no one else could speak their primary language, Mendi. Communication was very difficult.
Faced with this dilemma, Lewis Tappan, a member of the abolitionist committee formed to assist the Africans, put out a public call for help:
If there are native Africans in this city, or elsewhere in this country, who were born near the sources of the river Niger, or in Mandingo, or who can converse readily in the Susoo, Kissi, Mandingo, or Gallinas dialects, they will confer a great favor by calling or sending to the undersigned, for the committee, at 143 Nassau street, New York City.[ix]
Abolitionist supporters throughout the country answered the call, including a committee of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society consisting of Dr. Isaac Parrish, Daniel Neall Jr., William Betts, William Harned and Charles Wise. In a letter to Joshua Leavitt dated September 12, 1839, Dr. Parrish offered
.. to confer with you in the case, to secure the services of D P Brown on behalf of the Society, solicit funds and adopt such measures as should be necessary to aid you in the defense.
and offered Leavitt the services of a translator
a white man – about middle aged – named John Shain. When a child he was placed on board of [a] Slave Ship and lived for 7 years amongst the Africans … [he] obtained an intimate knowledge of the Soso and Mandingo languages. He is well acquainted with the customs of the people, the Geography of the country etc.[x]
Three days later, Parrish added another candidate to the list
I have just returned from a very interesting visit to an old Mandingo man in company with John Shean, J [Joshua] Coffin etc. Shean and he conversed fluently and readily in the Susoo language – and it was hard to tell which of them was the most pleased. The old man is nearly 80 years of age, speaks several African languages, French and English, the latter very imperfectly. If he should be wanted, we will send him on – he is very anxious to go.[xi]
And well it might be that the old man be anxious to go. He was Lahy Ganges.
The following day, Joshua Coffin, one of the other attendees of the meeting with John Shane and “the old man” provided further particulars to Lewis Tappan in a letter Shane delivered to him in New York[xii]
Phil 16 Sept 1839
Brother [Lewis] Tappan,
Yesterday afternoon I attended one of the churches for colored people & by means of one of the congregation was introduced to a native Soosoo (the son of a Soosoo chief) who was kidnapped from Africa when a man grown. I went last evening with John Shane to see him in company with Dr. [Isaac] Parrish. I was grateful to find them both well acquainted with the language. The old man Levi Ganges, alias Lahi, the son of Mulcauba. He can speak the Soosoo, the Mandingo, the Mandingo Foulah, the Timmanee and the Lambar languages & how many more I know not. It may be (&) well to mention that in Mr. Shane can speak the Spanish both the classical & creole & not improper to suggest the propriety of not saying a word about his knowledge of Spanish unless the question is asked him in Hartford. We all think it would be advisable to have Levi go to Hartford. Mr Shane will tell you all about his qualifications. He would be glad to have him go on many accounts. If you think so, just write a line to Dr. Parrish & he will come forthwith. I should be pleased to say more, but am in haste as you see by my writing.
Yours for the slave
Lewis Tappan Esq.
No 122 Pearl St or No 143 Nassau St. NY
By Jno. [John] Shane
After delivering this letter to Tappan, Shane proceeded to Hartford and spoke with the La Amistad captives, but was unsuccessful. He then returned to Philadelphia with a letter, dated September 18th, from Tappan to Dr. Parrish. The situation can be inferred from Parrish’s reply
I received thine of the 18th by return of John Sheain and was almost as much disappointed as Sheian himself, that he failed to converse with the Prisoners – Altho I cannot doubt from the account, that had he the full confidence of Joseph Cinquez he could communicate with him.
There is a hint here that Parrish believed Cinque’s lack of confidence might arise from a general distrust of whites. It is true that at this point, the captives were in great fear for their lives and did not know who to trust.[xiii] This attempt having failed, Dr. Parrish resolved to push on:
In consulting upon the case our Committee concluded to send on old Levi Ganges and as he could not go alone – to let J S [John Shean] accompany him. We have raised $300 and if a strong appeal were made could raise more. This sum will pay the expenses of Brown & the interpreters and leave us something. Please get old Levi comfortable accommodations in some friendly family. He is well known here and can tell his own story. He has an unpleasant inflammation of the eye following an operation which was performed several months ago which may require some care. If John Sheain can be of any use, let him be employed. If not we will pay his expenses until Levi is ready to return. [xiv]
Shortly thereafter Lahy/Levi Ganges must have set out to Hartford to see what assistance he could render to the Amistad Africans. It appears that he was as unsuccessful as John Shean. An accounting of the defense committee’s expenses published in Lewis Tappan’s Emancipator reports an $1.60 expense for Levi Ganges’ lodging in Hartford and nothing more.[xv] This suggests that Levi, too, was unable to speak any of the Africans’ languages and this, not a distrust of whites, was the reason for their silent responses to John Shean.
Lahy/Levi Ganges returned to Philadelphia and the Amistad defense went on. The committee finally located two translators when the Africans taught Professor Josiah Gibbs Yale his numbers. In New York City, he walked the waterfront for hours, loudly and repeatedly counting to ten. His efforts were rewarded when black two mariners, Charles Pratt and James Covey, recognizing his speech but at a loss to understand his strange behavior, sought out the story. In a matter of hours, the situation was clarified. The mariners were recruited and brought to the Africans’ prison cells in Hartford, much to the joy of those imprisoned.[xvi]
The Amistad case continued to its historic conclusion and Lahy/Levi took up his life again in Philadelphia. Despite having made the association between Lahi and Levi Ganges, other records pertaining to him have proven scarce. The 1820 and 1840 Federal censuses for Southwark enumerate a Levy and an L Gansey, colored, which might be he.[xvii] Adam Everly, comb maker of 225 High St, opened a bank account for Levi in August, 1831.[xviii]
Levi succumbed to apoplexy on September 13, 1846 at Blockley Hospital at the Philadelphia Almshouse. He was interred at Bethel Colored Burial Ground three days later.[xx] This burial ground, long forgotten but recently re-discovered, is the final resting place for thousands of black Philadelphians. An excellent web site maintained by Terry Buckalew, bethelburyinggroundproject.com , documents the lives of people interred there, including Lahy/Levi. May he rest in peace.
[i] Indenture from Lahy Ganges to Enos Eldridge of Darby Township, Delaware County, 6 October 1800, Box 2 Folder 17. “Papers, Series IV. Manumissions, indentures, and other legal papers, document”, Pennsylvania Abolition Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
[ii] Delaware County Pennsylvania Deeds, F:564.
[iii] Delaware County Pennsylvania Deeds, P:166. Eldridge is describes as “of Moyamensing, Philadelphia County, in this deed.
[v] Many of the outbuildings listed in the ad are not listed a 1798 Federal Direct Tax assessment which lists only a stone hose and kitchen. See: Assessment Lists for the Pennsylvania Direct Tax, 1798 – 1800, Microfilm Publication M372, 24 rolls, (Washington, D.C.: NARA, 1962), roll 7, division 3, collection district 5 (Chester(part) and Delaware County, Darby and Tinicum Townships), Book 1, n.p, line 60, Enos Eldridge; online images, Ancestry, (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 11 Aug 2020).
[vi] Assessment Lists for the Pennsylvania Direct Tax, 1798 – 1800, Microfilm Publication M372, 24 rolls, (Washington, D.C.: NARA, 1962), roll 7, division 3, collection district 5 (Chester(part) and Delaware County, Darby and Tinicum Townships), Book E, Tinicum Twp., n.p., particular list number 6, Enos Eldridge; online images, Ancestry, (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 25 Aug 2020).
[vii] Delaware County Pennsylvania Deeds, H:563.
[viii] Gloucester County New Jersey Deeds, M:15.
[ix] Lewis Tappan, “To the Committee”, NY Commercial Advertiser, 13 Sept 1839, p. 2, col. 1, online archives, genealogybank.com, accessed 25 Aug 2020. Note that Tappan does not list Mendi as one of the desired languages. At the outset, the Amistad committee mistakenly believed that the Africans’ primary language was Mandingo, not Mendi.
[x] “Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case”, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library,Tulane University , Tulane University Digital Library (https://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/ accessed 13 July 2020), image, “Letter from Isaac Parrish to Joshua Leavitt”, 12 Sept 1839, Doc. No. F1-4613, crediting “American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana”.
[xi] “Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case”, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library,Tulane University , Tulane University Digital Library (https://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/ accessed 13 Jul 2020), image, “Letter from Isaac Parrish to Lewis Tappan”, 15 Sept 1839, Doc. No. F1-4624, crediting “American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana”.
[xii] “Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case”, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library,Tulane University , Tulane University Digital Library (https://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/ accessed 16 Jun 2020), image, “Letter from Joshua Coffin to Lewis Tappan”, 16 Sept 1839, Doc. No. F1-4626, crediting “American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana”. This is the only record identified to-date that provides a specific point of origin, parent, and ethnic group for a member of the First Ganges,
[xiii] Reddicker, Marcus, The Amistad Rebellion, (New York, Penguin Books, 2019), p 123.
[xiv] “Slavery and the U.S. Supreme Court: The Amistad Case”, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library,Tulane University , Tulane University Digital Library (https://digitallibrary.tulane.edu/ accessed 13 Jul 2020), image, “Letter from Isaac Parrish to Lewis Tappan”, 20 Sept 1839, Doc. No. F1-4634, crediting “American Missionary Association Archives, Amistad Research Center, New Orleans, Louisiana”.
[xv] S.S. Jocelyn, Joshua Leavitt, Lewis Tappan, “Expenditures on Account of Captured Africans”, The Emancipator, 6 Feb 1840, p. 163, col. 5, online archives, Gale Primary Sources (https://go-gale-com.nehgs.idm.oclc.org/ps/dispBasicSearch.do?userGroupName=mlin_b_nenghist&prodId=NCNP : accessed 13 July 2020), 19th Century U.S. Newspapers, citing Wisconsin Historical Society. Sept  Levi Ganges (interpreter) board at Hartford 1 62 [$1.62].
[xvi] Reddicker, Marcus, The Amistad Rebellion, (New York, Penguin Books, 2019), p 136.
[xvii] 1 1820 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Southwark District, population schedule, p. 86 (stamped), line 2, Levy Gansey; digital image, Anccestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 14 Jul 2020); citing National Archives Microfilm publication M33 roll 110. 1840 U.S. census, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Southwark District, population schedule, p. 111 (stamped), line 1, L Gansey; digital image, Ancestry.com (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 14 Jul 2020); citing Family History Library Film 0020555.
[xviii] “Pennsylvania and New Jersey, Church and Town Records, 1669-2013”, digital images, Ancestry.com, (https://www.ancestry.com/ : accessed 14 Jul 2020) >PA – Philadelphia> Philadelphia>Not Stated>The Philadelphia Saving Fund Society, image of entry for Am[Adam] Everly 225 High St for Levi Ganges, account 17232 (8 Aug 1831);citing Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.
[xix] John Caspar Wild, Alms House (Philadelphia), 1840, Lithograph in colors, Mabel Brady Garvan Collection, Yale University Art Gallery.
[xx] Philadelphia, Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, Board of Health Cemetery Returns, unnumbered page, section Bethel Colored Cemetery for the week of September 16, 1846, return for Levi Ganges, died 13 Sept. 1846; image, “Registration of deaths, 1803-1903; arranged by year and cemetery”, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog/629743?availability=Family%20History%20Library : accessed 12 July 2020) > digital film 004009816 > image 208.