The New Haven Green, laid out in 1638, is one of the oldest in New England, and the setting for three churches erected on the east side of the Green between 1812 and 1816: Center Church and United Church (fine examples of the Federal Style) and Trinity Church (one of the first large Gothic Revival buildings in America). The Green functioned in the 19th century as New Haven's outdoor living room and meeting place, particularly for supporters of the Mende Africans. From September 1839 to August 1840 the Amistad survivors were incarcerated in the New Haven Jail, located on the east side of the New Haven Green. During their time here, the Mende were brought out of jail to exercise on the Green. Thousands of spectators, each paying 12 and a half cents admission, visited the jail to view the Amistad captives.
During the time the Mende were held in New Haven, the U.S. District Court convened here in January of 1840, after having postponed the Mende's hearing from their session in Hartford the previous fall. The court ruled that the Africans were not legally enslaved and placed the captives under the charge of U.S. President Martin Van Buren. The President ordered an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court, which upheld the District Court's ruling when it also convened in New Haven that April. Awaiting a final hearing on the case by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Mende were transferred from New Haven to a warehouse in Westville in August of 1840.
The green is home to a new Amistad Memorial at the site of the former jail, which highlights significant episodes of the Amistad story in which Sengbe Pieh (Joseph Cinque) played a courageous role. The memorial is a reminder of the triumph over oppression and the victory of justice and brotherhood of the Amistad story.
The New Haven Green Historic District, a National Historic Landmark, is roughly bounded by Chapel, College, Elm and Church sts. The green is the common property of the residents of New Haven, and a popular spot for walking, lunching, summer concerts and other events. Call 203-946-8027 for further information. United Church and Center Church have been documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey.
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