The Amistad Mutiny 1839

[ 1839 ]

The Spanish schooner La Amistad, with 53 black African slaves aboard, left Havana to go to another Cuban port in July 1839. Led by Cinque (1813?-80), so named by slave traders but whose real name was Sengbe Pieh, the slaves mutinied and killed the captain and the ship's cook. Ignorant of navigation, the slaves kept two crew members to sail the ship to Africa and put the others over the side in boats. The two navigators, however, stealthily steered the ship northward. After about 50 days it wound up off Long Island, was seized by a US warship, and was taken to New London, Connecticut, where Cinque and the other mutineers were charged with piracy and murder. Abolitionists defended them and appealed their case to the US Supreme Court, where former president John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) eloquently argued their case, despite efforts of the administration of US president Martin Van Buren (1782-1862) to return the Africans to their masters. On March 9, 1841, the Court ruled that Cinque and his men be set free on the grounds that the slave trade was illegal; they were returned to their Mende homeland (south of Freetown) in West Africa.

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