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Supreme Court rules on Amistad slave ship mutiny case

Supreme Court rules on Amistad slave ship mutiny case

At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the enslaved Africans who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law.

In 1807, the U.S. Congress joined with Great Britain in abolishing the African slave trade, although the trading of enslaved people within the U.S. was not prohibited. Despite the international ban on the importation of enslaved Africans, Cuba continued to transport captive Africans to its sugar plantations until the 1860s, and Brazil to its coffee plantations until the 1850s.

READ MORE: The Atlantic Slave Trade Continued Illegally in America Until the Civil War

On June 28, 1839, 53 enslaved people recently captured in Africa left Havana, Cuba, aboard the Amistad schooner for a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba. Three days later, Sengbe Pieh, a Membe African known as Cinque, freed himself and the other enslaved people and planned a mutiny. Early in the morning of July 2, in the midst of a storm, the Africans rose up against their captors and, using sugar-cane knives found in the hold, killed the captain of the vessel and a crewmember. Two other crewmembers were either thrown overboard or escaped, and Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes, the two Cubans who had purchased the enslaved people, were captured. Cinque ordered the Cubans to sail the Amistad east back to Africa. During the day, Ruiz and Montes complied, but at night they would turn the vessel in a northerly direction, toward U.S. waters. After almost nearly two difficult months at sea, during which time more than a dozen Africans perished, what became known as the “black schooner” was first spotted by American vessels.

On August 26, the USS Washington, a U.S. Navy brig, seized the Amistad off the coast of Long Island and escorted it to New London, Connecticut. Ruiz and Montes were freed, and the Africans were imprisoned pending an investigation of the Amistad revolt. The two Cubans demanded the return of their supposedly Cuban-born enslaved people, while the Spanish government called for the Africans’ extradition to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder. In opposition to both groups, American abolitionists advocated the return of the illegally bought enslaved people to Africa.

The story of the Amistad mutiny garnered widespread attention, and U.S. abolitionists succeeded in winning a trial in a U.S. court. Before a federal district court in Connecticut, Cinque, who was taught English by his new American friends, testified on his own behalf. On January 13, 1840, Judge Andrew Judson ruled that the Africans were illegally enslaved, that they would not be returned to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder, and that they should be granted free passage back to Africa. The Spanish authorities and U.S. President Martin Van Buren appealed the decision, but another federal district court upheld Judson’s findings. President Van Buren, in opposition to the abolitionist faction in Congress, appealed the decision again.

On February 22, 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the Amistad case. U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829, joined the Africans’ defense team. In Congress, Adams had been an eloquent opponent of slavery, and before the nation’s highest court he presented a coherent argument for the release of Cinque and the 34 other survivors of the Amistad.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had thus exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom. In November, with the financial assistance of their abolitionist allies, the Amistad Africans departed America aboard the Gentleman on a voyage back to West Africa. Some of the Africans helped establish a Christian mission in Sierra Leone, but most, like Cinque, returned to their homelands in the African interior. One of the survivors, who was a child when taken aboard the Amistad, eventually returned to the United States. Originally named Margru, she studied at Ohio’s integrated and coeducational Oberlin College in the late 1840s, before returning to Sierra Leone as evangelical missionary Sara Margru Kinson.

READ MORE: One of the Last Slave Ship Survivors Describes His Ordeal in a 1930s Interview


Amistad: Legal Battle

Sengbe Pieh and Justice Joseph Story

While Pieh and the others were in a New Haven prison, their case was sent to the U.S. District Court (also the Old Statehouse). A U.S. attorney, under direction from Secretary of State John Forsyth, presented Spain’s argument that the captives should be returned to Cuba. The African captive’s defense was organized by the Amistad Committee - a group of local abolitionists. They argued that Spanish law and international treaty forbade the importation of Africans for the slave trade. Pieh and the others described their kidnap, mistreatment, and sale into slavery. The District Court ruled that the African captives were not Spanish and should return to Africa.

The U.S. Attorney appealed the decision to the next highest court, the Circuit Court, which upheld the District Court's opinion. The U.S. Attorney then appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The Amistad Committee approached former President and Secretary of State John Quincy Adams and asked him to argue the defense before the Supreme Court. Adams was a leading opponent of slavery and had previously argued before the Supreme Court, and was thus seen as the perfect candidate. Adams was 72 years old, almost blind, an active Congressman, and had not argued a case as a lawyer in more than 30 years. At first hesitant, he finally agreed to take the case.

The U.S. vs. Amistad began in February 1841. The U.S. case argued that, under treaty obligations, the captives be returned to Spain. Adams stated that American ideals of freedom demanded that the Pieh and the others be set free and returned to their homes in what is presently Sierra Leone. The Supreme Court ruled 7-1 on the side of the captive Africans. They found that they were not Spanish, were taken illegally from Africa, and should return to Africa. The majority decision stated:

“. The treaty with Spain never could have intended to take away the equal rights of all foreigners. or to deprive such foreigners of the protection given them by other treaties, or by the general law of nations. Upon the merits of the case, then, there does not seem to us to be any ground for doubt, that these negroes ought to be deemed free.
. [T]he said negroes be declared to be free, and be dismissed from the custody of the court, and go without delay.”

--U.S. vs. Amistad majority decision delivered by Justice Joseph Story

In November 1841, two years after their initial capture, Sengbe Pieh and the 34 other surviving captives returned to Mendeland on the ship Gentleman. Funds for the trip were raised by the Amistad Committee.

The Amistad court case is credited with being the first civil rights case in the United States. The positive ruling on the side of the captive Africans gave strength to the abolitionist movement. It went from being a fragmented group to a legitimate movement, and the Amistad case helped centralize their message about the injustice of slavery.

This is just one story associated with the Amistad event. To learn more, please visit the main Stories page of this travel itinerary.


Supreme Court rules in favor of Amistad mutineers, March 9, 1841

The U.S. Supreme Court on this day in 1841 ruled that the 35 remaining survivors of a revolt at sea aboard the Spanish schooner Amistad should be freed and permitted to return to their native Sierra Leone. Although seven of the nine justices on the court came from Southern states, only one member of the court dissented from Justice Joseph Story’s majority opinion.

The events leading up to the decision began on July 2, 1839, when Joseph Cinqué led 52 of his fellow captive Africans, who had been abducted from the British protectorate of Sierra Leone by Portuguese slave traders, in seizing the vessel. The Africans killed the captain and three crewmen, justifying their actions as those of kidnapping victims.

They spared the lives of the two navigators, who were directed to steer the ship back to western Africa. Deviously, they instead set a northwesterly course. When the Amistad appeared off the coast of Long Island, the U.S. Navy took command of the ship and towed it to New London, Connecticut.

President Martin Van Buren, seeking to garner pro-slavery voters in his upcoming reelection bid, wanted the jailed prisoners returned to the Spanish authorities in Cuba to stand trial for mutiny. A Connecticut judge, however, recognized the defendants’ rights as free citizens who were entitled to return to Africa.

When the government’s appeal reached the high tribunal, Rep. John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, a former president, represented the Amistad Africans. He argued that it was the illegally enslaved Africans, rather than the Cubans, who “were entitled to all the kindness and good offices due from a humane and Christian nation.”

Adams’ victory in the Amistad case proved a spur to the growing U.S. abolition movement. In legal terms, however, the case revolved around the Atlantic slave trade, which by 1840 had been outlawed by international treaty. At the time, it was possible to condemn the importation of slaves from Africa while at the same time defending the slave trade within the United States.

The Spanish government vainly pressured the United States to indemnify it for having seized the Cuban-based vessel. Congress debated the Amistad case for more than two decades without reaching a resolution.


Contents

La Amistad was a 19th-century two-masted schooner of about 120 feet (37 m). In 1839 it was owned by Ramón Ferrer, a Spanish national. [3] Strictly speaking, La Amistad was not a typical slave ship, as it was not designed unlike others to traffic massive numbers of enslaved Africans, nor did it engage in the Middle Passage of Africans to the Americas. The ship engaged in the shorter, domestic coastwise trade around Cuba and islands and coastal nations in the Caribbean. The primary cargo carried by La Amistad was sugar-industry products. It carried a limited number of passengers and enslaved Africans being trafficked for delivery or sale around the island. [ citation needed ]

1839 slave revolt Edit

Captained by Ferrer, La Amistad left Havana on June 28, 1839, for the small port of Guanaja, near Puerto Príncipe, Cuba, with some general cargo and 53 Africans slaves bound for the sugar plantation where they were to be delivered. [3] These 53 Mende captives (49 adults and four children) had been taken from Mendiland (in modern-day Sierra Leone) and illegally transported from Africa to Havana, mostly aboard the slave ship Teçora, to be sold into slavery in Cuba. Although the United States and Britain had banned the Atlantic slave trade, Spain had not abolished slavery in its colonies. [4] [5] The crew of La Amistad, lacking purpose-built slave quarters, placed half the captives in the main hold and the other half on deck. The captives were relatively free to move about, which aided their revolt and commandeering of the vessel. In the main hold below decks, the captives found a rusty file and sawed through their manacles. [6]

On about July 1, once free, the men below quickly went up on deck. Armed with machete-like cane knives, they attacked the crew, successfully gaining control of the ship, under the leadership of Sengbe Pieh (later known in the United States as Joseph Cinqué). They killed the captain and some of the crew, but spared José Ruiz and Pedro Montes, the two owners of the slaves, so that they could guide the ship back to Africa. [3] [5] [6] While the Mende demanded to be returned home, the navigator Montes deceived them about the course, maneuvering the ship north along the North American coast until they reached the eastern tip of Long Island, New York.

On 21 August 1839, the Amistad was discovered thirty miles southeast of Sandy Hook. The pilot-boat Blossom came across the vessel and supplied the men with water and bread. When they attempted to board the pilot-boat to escape, the pilot-boat cut the rope that was attached to the Amistad. The pilots then communicated what they felt was a Slave ship to the Collector of the Port of New York. [7] [8]

Discovered by the naval brig USS Washington while on surveying duties, La Amistad was taken into United States custody. [3] [9] [ page needed ]

Court case Edit

The Washington officers brought the first case to federal district court over salvage claims while the second case began in a Connecticut court after the state arrested the Spanish traders on charges of enslaving free Africans. [5] The Spanish foreign minister, however, demanded that Amistad and its cargo be released from custody and the "slaves" sent to Cuba for punishment by Spanish authorities. While the Van Buren administration accepted the Spanish crown's argument, Secretary of State John Forsyth explained that the president could not order the release of Amistad and its cargo because the executive could not interfere with the judiciary under American law. He could also not release the Spanish traders from imprisonment in Connecticut because that would constitute federal intervention in a matter of state jurisdiction. [ citation needed ] Abolitionists Joshua Leavitt, Lewis Tappan, and Simeon Jocelyn formed the Amistad Committee to raise funds for the defense of Amistad's captives. Former President John Quincy Adams represented the captives in court. [ citation needed ]

A widely-publicized court case ensued in New Haven to settle legal issues about the ship and the status of the Mende captives. They were at risk of execution if convicted of mutiny. They became a popular cause among abolitionists in the United States. Since 1808, the United States and Britain had prohibited the international slave trade. [10] In order to avoid the international prohibition on the African slave trade, the ship's owners fraudulently described the Mende as having been born in Cuba and said they were being sold in the Spanish domestic slave trade. The court had to determine if the Mende were to be considered salvage and thus the property of naval officers who had taken custody of the ship (as was legal in such cases), the property of the Cuban buyers, or the property of Spain, as Queen Isabella II claimed, via Spanish ownership of the Amistad. [ citation needed ] A question was whether the circumstances of the capture and transport of the Mende meant they were legally free and had acted as free men rather than slaves. [5]

After judges ruled in favor of the Africans in the district and circuit courts, the United States v. The Amistad case reached the US Supreme Court on appeal. In 1841, it ruled that the Mende had been illegally transported and held as slaves, and had rebelled in self-defense. [ citation needed ] It ordered them freed. [5] Although the US government did not provide any aid, thirty-five survivors returned to Africa in 1842, [5] aided by funds raised by the United Missionary Society, a black group founded by James W.C. Pennington. He was a Congregational minister and fugitive slave in Brooklyn, New York, who was active in the abolitionist movement. [11] The Spanish government claimed that the slaves were Spanish citizens not of African origin. This created a lot of tension between the US government, the British, who had already abolished slavery and had made this act illegal, and the Spanish government. [12]

Later years Edit

After being moored at the wharf behind the US Custom House in New London, Connecticut, for a year and a half, La Amistad was auctioned off by the U.S. Marshal in October 1840. Captain George Hawford, of Newport, Rhode Island, purchased the vessel and then needed an Act of Congress passed to register it. [ citation needed ] He renamed it Ion. In late 1841, he sailed Ion to Bermuda and Saint Thomas with a typical New England cargo of onions, apples, live poultry, and cheese.

After sailing Ion for a few years, Hawford sold it in Guadeloupe in 1844. [ citation needed ] There is no record of what became of Ion under the new French owners in the Caribbean.

  • 2000–2015: Amistad America, Inc., New Haven, Connecticut
  • from 2015: Discovering Amistad, Inc., New Haven, Connecticut

The Amistad Memorial stands in front of New Haven City Hall and County Courthouse in New Haven, Connecticut, where many of the events related to the affair in the United States occurred.

The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, is devoted to research about slavery, abolition, civil rights and African Americans it commemorates the revolt of slaves on the ship by the same name. [ citation needed ] A collection of portraits of La Amistad survivors that were drawn by William H. Townsend during the survivors' trial are held in the collection of Yale University. [5]

Replica Edit

Between 1998 and 2000, artisans at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut, built a replica of La Amistad, using traditional skills and construction techniques common to wooden schooners built in the 19th century, but using modern materials and engines. Officially named Amistad, it was promoted as "Freedom Schooner Amistad". [13] [14] The modern-day ship is not an exact replica of La Amistad, as it is slightly longer and has higher freeboard. There were no old blueprints of the original.

The new schooner was built using a general knowledge of the Baltimore Clippers and art drawings from the era. Some of the tools used in the project were the same as those that might have been used by a 19th-century shipwright, while others were powered. Tri-Coastal Marine, [15] designers of "Freedom Schooner Amistad", used modern computer technology to develop plans for the vessel. Bronze bolts are used as fastenings throughout the ship. Freedom Schooner Amistad has an external ballast keel made of lead and two Caterpillar diesel engines. None of this technology was available to 19th-century builders.

"Freedom Schooner Amistad" was operated by Amistad America, Inc., based in New Haven, Connecticut. The ship's mission was to educate the public on the history of slavery, abolition, discrimination, and civil rights. The homeport is New Haven, where the Amistad trial took place. It has also traveled to port cities for educational opportunities. It was also the State Flagship and Tall ship Ambassador of Connecticut. [16] The ship made several commemorative voyages: one in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in Britain (1807) and the United States (1808), [17] and one in 2010 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its 2000 launching at Mystic Seaport. It undertook a two-year refit at Mystic Seaport from 2010 and was subsequently mainly used for sea training in Maine and film work. [18]

In 2013 Amistad America lost its non-profit organization status after failing to file tax returns for three years and amid concern of the accountability for public funding from the state of Connecticut. [19] [20] [21] The company was later put into liquidation, and in November 2015 a new non-profit, Discovering Amistad Inc., [22] purchased the ship from the receiver. Amistad has now been restored to educational and promotional activity in New Haven, Connecticut. [23]


Supreme Court rules on Amistad slave ship mutiny case - HISTORY

March 9, 1841
Supreme Court rules on Amistad mutiny.

At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the African slaves who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law.

In 1807, the U.S. Congress joined with Great Britain in abolishing the African slave trade, although the trading of slaves within the U.S. was not prohibited. Despite the international ban on the importation of African slaves, Cuba continued to transport captive Africans to its sugar plantations until the 1860s, and Brazil to its coffee plantations until the 1850s.

On June 28, 1839, 53 slaves recently captured in Africa left Havana, Cuba, aboard the Amistad schooner for a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba. Three days later, Sengbe Pieh, a Membe African known as Cinque, freed himself and the other slaves and planned a mutiny. Early in the morning of July 2, in the midst of a storm, the Africans rose up against their captors and, using sugar-cane knives found in the hold, killed the captain of the vessel and a crewmember. Two other crewmembers were either thrown overboard or escaped, and Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes, the two Cubans who had purchased the slaves, were captured. Cinque ordered the Cubans to sail the Amistad east back to Africa. During the day, Ruiz and Montes complied, but at night they would turn the vessel in a northerly direction, toward U.S. waters. After almost nearly two difficult months at sea, during which time more than a dozen Africans perished, what became known as the “black schooner” was first spotted by American vessels.

On August 26, the USS Washington, a U.S. Navy brig, seized the Amistad off the coast of Long Island and escorted it to New London, Connecticut. Ruiz and Montes were freed, and the Africans were imprisoned pending an investigation of the Amistad revolt. The two Cubans demanded the return of their supposedly Cuban-born slaves, while the Spanish government called for the Africans’ extradition to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder. In opposition to both groups, American abolitionists advocated the return of the illegally bought slaves to Africa.

The story of the Amistad mutiny garnered widespread attention, and U.S. abolitionists succeeded in winning a trial in a U.S. court. Before a federal district court in Connecticut, Cinque, who was taught English by his new American friends, testified on his own behalf. On January 13, 1840, Judge Andrew Judson ruled that the Africans were illegally enslaved, that they would not be returned to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder, and that they should be granted free passage back to Africa. The Spanish authorities and U.S. President Martin Van Buren appealed the decision, but another federal district court upheld Judson’s findings. President Van Buren, in opposition to the abolitionist faction in Congress, appealed the decision again.

On February 22, 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the Amistad case. U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829, joined the Africans’ defense team. In Congress, Adams had been an eloquent opponent of slavery, and before the nation’s highest court he presented a coherent argument for the release of Cinque and the 34 other survivors of the Amistad.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had thus exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom. In November, with the financial assistance of their abolitionist allies, the Amistad Africans departed America aboard the Gentleman on a voyage back to West Africa. Some of the Africans helped establish a Christian mission in Sierra Leone, but most, like Cinque, returned to their homelands in the African interior. One of the survivors, who was a child when taken aboard the Amistad as a slave, eventually returned to the United States. Originally named Margru, she studied at Ohio’s integrated and coeducational Oberlin College in the late 1840s, before returning to Sierra Leone as evangelical missionary Sara Margru Kinson.


Supreme Court rules on Amistad slave ship mutiny case

Lt Col Charlie Brown

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At the end of a historic case, the U.S. Supreme Court rules, with only one dissent, that the enslaved Africans who seized control of the Amistad slave ship had been illegally forced into slavery, and thus are free under American law.

In 1807, the U.S. Congress joined with Great Britain in abolishing the African slave trade, although the trading of enslaved people within the U.S. was not prohibited. Despite the international ban on the importation of enslaved Africans, Cuba continued to transport captive Africans to its sugar plantations until the 1860s, and Brazil to its coffee plantations until the 1850s.

On June 28, 1839, 53 enslaved people recently captured in Africa left Havana, Cuba, aboard the Amistad schooner for a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba. Three days later, Sengbe Pieh, a Membe African known as Cinque, freed himself and the other enslaved people and planned a mutiny. Early in the morning of July 2, in the midst of a storm, the Africans rose up against their captors and, using sugar-cane knives found in the hold, killed the captain of the vessel and a crewmember. Two other crewmembers were either thrown overboard or escaped, and Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes, the two Cubans who had purchased the enslaved people, were captured. Cinque ordered the Cubans to sail the Amistad east back to Africa. During the day, Ruiz and Montes complied, but at night they would turn the vessel in a northerly direction, toward U.S. waters. After almost nearly two difficult months at sea, during which time more than a dozen Africans perished, what became known as the “black schooner” was first spotted by American vessels.

On August 26, the USS Washington, a U.S. Navy brig, seized the Amistad off the coast of Long Island and escorted it to New London, Connecticut. Ruiz and Montes were freed, and the Africans were imprisoned pending an investigation of the Amistad revolt. The two Cubans demanded the return of their supposedly Cuban-born enslaved people, while the Spanish government called for the Africans’ extradition to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder. In opposition to both groups, American abolitionists advocated the return of the illegally bought enslaved people to Africa.

The story of the Amistad mutiny garnered widespread attention, and U.S. abolitionists succeeded in winning a trial in a U.S. court. Before a federal district court in Connecticut, Cinque, who was taught English by his new American friends, testified on his own behalf. On January 13, 1840, Judge Andrew Judson ruled that the Africans were illegally enslaved, that they would not be returned to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder, and that they should be granted free passage back to Africa. The Spanish authorities and U.S. President Martin Van Buren appealed the decision, but another federal district court upheld Judson’s findings. President Van Buren, in opposition to the abolitionist faction in Congress, appealed the decision again.

On February 22, 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the Amistad case. U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829, joined the Africans’ defense team. In Congress, Adams had been an eloquent opponent of slavery, and before the nation’s highest court he presented a coherent argument for the release of Cinque and the 34 other survivors of the Amistad.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had thus exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom. In November, with the financial assistance of their abolitionist allies, the Amistad Africans departed America aboard the Gentleman on a voyage back to West Africa. Some of the Africans helped establish a Christian mission in Sierra Leone, but most, like Cinque, returned to their homelands in the African interior. One of the survivors, who was a child when taken aboard the Amistad, eventually returned to the United States. Originally named Margru, she studied at Ohio’s integrated and coeducational Oberlin College in the late 1840s, before returning to Sierra Leone as evangelical missionary Sara Margru Kinson.


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Movies and Documentaries

Ghosts of Amistad: In the Footsteps of the Rebels —This film chronicles a trip to Sierra Leone to visit the home villages of the people who seized the slave schooner Amistad in 1839, to interview elders about local memory of the case, and to search for the long-lost ruins of Lomboko, the slave trading factory where their cruel transatlantic voyage began.

Amistad – The Federal Courts and the Challenge to Slavery —This documentary on C-SPAN details the complicated legal battle that resulted after an 1839 slave ship mutiny in the Caribbean that landed the ship in Connecticut, and eventually landed the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.


Bibliography

Amistad. Directed by Steven Spielberg. DreamWorks Pictures, 1997.

Barber, John Warner. A History of the Amistad Captives. New Haven, Conn.: Barber, 1840. Reprint, New York: Arno Press, 1969.

Cable, Mary. Black Odyssey: The Case of the Slave Ship Amistad. New York: Viking, 1971.

Jones, Howard. Mutiny on the Amistad: The Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on American Abolition, Law, and Diplomacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

McClendon, R. Earl. "The Amistad Claims: Inconsistencies of Policy." Political Science Quarterly 48 (1933): 386-412.

Osagie, Iyunolu Folayan. The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2000.


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The Amistad Mutiny, 1839

The Amistad Mutiny occurred on the Spanish schooner La Amistad on July 2, 1839. The incident began In February 1839 when Portuguese slave hunters illegally seized 53 Africans in Sierra Leone, a British colony, whom they intended to sell in the Spanish colony of Cuba. Several weeks into the slave-raiding trip, the 53, along with 500 other captured Africans were loaded on to the Tecora, a Portuguese slave ship. After a two month voyage the Tecora landed in Havana, Cuba. There Jose Ruiz purchased 49 adult slaves and Pedro Montes bought four children. Ruiz and Montes wanted to bring the slaves to the sugar plantations in Puerto Principe (now Camaguey), Cuba where they would resell them. The slave merchants boarded the 53 African captives on the Amistad which departed from Havana, Cuba on June 28, 1839.

Because the captives on the ship experienced harsh treatment by their captors, four days into the voyage on July 2, 1839, one of them, Joseph Cinqué (also known as Sengbe Pieh), freed himself. After freeing other captives and helping them find weapons, Cinqué led them to the upper deck where they killed the ship’s cook, Celestino. They then killed the ship’s captain, Ramon Ferrer, although in the attack two captives died as well. Two Amistad crew members escaped from the ship by boat. Ruiz and Montes were spared during the revolt on the promise that they would sail the Amistad back to Sierra Leone as captives demanded.

Instead they sailed the ship toward the United States. Along the way several Africans died from dysentery and dehydration. On August 26, 1839, the Amistad landed off the eastern end of Long Island, New York at Culloden Point where a U.S. Navy ship took it into custody. Ruiz and Montes were freed while the surviving Africans were arrested and imprisoned at New London, Connecticut.

When the Spanish embassy claimed the African captives were slaves and demanded their return to Cuba, a trial ensued on January 1840 in a federal court in Hartford, Connecticut. The judge ruled that the Africans were illegally brought to Cuba since Great Britain, Spain, and the United States signed agreements outlawing the international slave trade. Under pressure from Southern slaveholders, however, U.S. President Martin Van Buren appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that anti-piracy agreements with Spain compelled the U.S. to return the Africans to Cuba. Meanwhile Northern Presbyterian and Congregational denominations led by abolitionist Lewis Tappin organized the Amistad Committee in New York City to support the legal defense of the Africans. Former President John Quincy Adams, then a Massachusetts Congressman, agreed to represent the Africans before the U.S. Supreme Court.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling in The United States v. The Amistad with a 7-1 decision declaring that the captives were illegally kidnapped and thus were free. Soon afterwards Northern abolitionists raised funds to pay for African men and boys, and three girls, to return to Sierra Leone. On November 25, 1841, the surviving Amistad captives departed from New York harbor for Sierra Leone. They were accompanied by James Covey, a British sailor and former slave who spoke their language, and five white missionaries, all sailing on the Gentleman. The British governor of Sierra Leone, William Fergusson, led the colony in welcoming the captives when they arrived in Freetown, in January 1842.


Watch the video: 9th March 1841: US Supreme court rules on the Amistad slave case (January 2022).