Supreme Court to Steven Spielberg: A Bible Like No Other

A 19th century gift to the president from the Mendi people
Katherine RivardArtifacts
Wooden library with walls of books and an oval table in the center in the Stone Library at Adams National Historical Park

The Bible is hands down the most read and sold book in history. The very idea of printed books in the West starts with the Bible (much obliged, Gutenberg). No matter what your spiritual or religious affiliations may be, you’ve probably come across a Bible if you’ve ever stayed in a hotel in the U.S. and opened your night stand. And even if you’ve never opened one, you’ve likely read allusions and quotes from its texts, as literature abounds with biblical references (see Dostoevsky, Melville, Dante, Faulkner etc.).

Enter the Mendi Bible.

The Mendi Bible opened to the cover title page "HOLY BIBLE, OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS"
Parks Magazine/Peter Harris

The story begins when Spanish slave traders captured 36 farmers from Mendi (present day Sierra Leone) in 1839, prepared to sell them into slavery in the Americas. The Mendi tribesmen mutinied while aboard the Amistad, but were recaptured upon arrival in Long Island.

During their imprisonment, the Mendi tribesmen were given a Bible, allowing them to improve their English and ultimately use their new vocabulary to explain their circumstances. They made a case to former President John Quincy Adams to represent them in front of the U.S. Supreme Court against Spain. In 1841, Adams affirmed that the Africans could not be considered Spanish property and were “fully entitled to their liberty.”

To thank him for his support and their newfound freedom, the Africans gifted him a gilded Bible, inscribed with a note promising to Adams that the people of Mendi would “never forget [his] defense,” to which Adams replied, “I will keep it as a kind of remembrance of you to the end of my life.”

gold-gilded leather-bound cover of the Mendi Bible
National Park Service

An exceptional emblem of a story about human grit and the pursuit of freedom and justice, the Bible remained in the Adams family for generations and is still part of the collection at Adams National Historical Park in Massachusetts. The Adams library also holds a number of valuable books, as well as paintings and furniture that are original artifacts from Adams’ lifetime.

A Bible with a history so fascinating that Steven Spielberg directed a movie tied to its history, starring Morgan Freeman? A Bible so rare that it was stolen in the 90s, only to be recovered via the lost and found at a local gym? It’s an incredible artifact with a remarkable past, and it’s preserved within one of the world’s largest museum systems, managed by the National Park Service.

Go #FindYourPark at Adams National Historical Park or another park near you, and learn about the enthralling stories tied to the myriad of artifacts protected for this and future generations.


Very cool story. The movie was a really good one.
we are so lucky here in Quincy to be able to see this Bible as many times as we want & experience first hand the founding of this great nation on a daily basis.
What is the name of the film Spielberg directed tied to the history of the Mendi Bible?
Amistad - Great movie!!!!
Hi Cheryl, the movie's name is: Amistad.
What an interesting article!

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