The slaves were put in a slave auction in Cuba and transferred to the Spanish owned cargo schooner called La Amistad. The leader of the slave rebellion was Sengbe Pieh, known as Cinque, a 26-year-old man from Mende, Sierra Leone. The slaves seized control of the ship, killing most of the crew, and ordered the navigator to sail for Africa. The navigator duped the slaves and the Amistad Slave Ship was intercepted two months later off New York.
La Amstrad Ship
The La Amstrad schooner was a small, sharp-built vessel, with two masts. The length of La Amstrad was about 120 feet (37 m) and was built to carry cargo on short coastal trips. La Amstrad was not built as a purpose built slave ship, it was usually engaged in the sugar trade. There were no slave quarters and the slaves were held in the main hold and on deck which gave them some freedom to move about which helped in their revolt. Ironically, La Amstrad was built by Americans and originally called the "Friendship" until it was bought and renamed La Amstrad by its new Spanish owners.
La Amistad Slave Ship History for kids: The Slave Trade
The Anglo-Spanish treaties of 1817 and 1835 had made the African slave trade a capital offence but the treaties were often violated. Slavery was still legal in Cuba, and once smuggled ashore, the captives were sold at slave auctions in Havana. The United States joined with Great Britain in abolishing the African slave trade in 1807, although the trading of slaves within the United States was not prohibited. The United States 'Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves of 1807' stated that no new slaves were permitted to be imported into the United States which ended the legality of the U.S. based transatlantic slave trade. The law was not well enforced and slavery itself continued in the US until the end of the Civil War and the adoption of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
La Amistad Slave Ship History for kids: Mende people are taken captive
The history of the La Amistad Slave rebellion began in 1839 in Mendiland, Sierra Leone, West Africa when men, women and children of the Mende people were taken captive by slave traders. They were taken to the African slave port of Lomboko where a total of 500 people were purchased by a slave trader.
La Amistad Slave Ship History for kids: The Tecora Slave Ship
The African captives were then boarded on to a Portuguese slave ship called the Tecora. The Tecora was a purpose built slave ship. The destination of the Tecora was Havana, Cuba. The horrendous voyage meant crossing the Atlantic or "middle passage" under the most brutal conditions. The voyage on the Tecora took approximately two months and many of the kidnapped Africans died during the crossing.
La Amistad Slave Ship: Havana, Cuba, the destination of the Tecora
La Amistad Slave Ship arrived in Havana, Cuba and the captives were initially taken to a barracoon, a type of barracks or a "slave pen" where they were prepared for the slave auction.
La Amistad Slave Ship for kids: Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez purchase the captives at the Slave Auction
Two Spanish plantation owners called Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, bought 53 Mende captives to take back to their sugar plantation 300 miles away in Puerto Principe. Montez and Ruiz acquired documents claiming the slaves were legally obtained as Cuban slaves, not imported from Africa which was illegal. The Mende captives were fraudulently classified as Cuban-born slaves so they could be sold and were all given Spanish names. Then 53 Africans and 7 crew members boarded La Amstrad cargo schooner on June 28, 1839 for the next part of their journey. Pedro Montez, who was once a sea captain and navigator, and Jose Ruiz joined the crew on La Amistad. The captain of La Amistad was called Raman Ferrer. they were fraudulently classified as Cuban-born slaves so they could be sold
La Amistad Slave Ship Mutiny
The mutiny on the Amistad Slave Ship erupted on 2 July, 1839 and was sparked by Celestino the schooner's cook. The cook had terrified the slaves by indicating that they would be killed, cooked and eaten when they disembarked. The leader of the slave mutiny was 26-year-old Sengbe Pieh, known as Cinque and aided by another slave called Grabeau. Cinque found a rusty nail and was able to pick the locks to the slave's shackles and set them free. They found weapons in the form of long sugar cane knives. They stormed the deck and killed Celestino the cook and the ship's captain Raman Ferrer. Other members of the crew jumped overboard but drowned in their effort to escape. Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez were injured in the fight but the slaves spared their lives on condition they would return the captives to Africa. Pedro Montez acted as the navigator but had no intention of leading the slaves back to Africa. During the day he navigated La Amistad towards the sun but, guided by the stars, turned back toward Havana at night. The La Amistad mutiny lasted for 60 days by which time the schooner had reached the coast of New York.
Interception of La Amistad Slave Ship
The La Amistad Slave Ship was intercepted on 26 August 1839. La Amistad had dropped anchor half a mile off Long Island, New York at Culloden Point. Some of the Africans went to shore to find fresh water and provisions. La Amistad was intercepted by Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney the commander of the USS Washington of the US Navy. Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney took the African slaves to the state of Connecticut and presented a written claim for salvage of the vessel and the human cargo. Lieutenant Gedney chose to land in Connecticut where, unlike New York, slavery was still legal.
Abolitionists and La Amistad Slave Ship
The 35 surviving Africans on the La Amistad Slave Ship were imprisoned as mutineers in New London, Connecticut. Spain demanded the extradition of the Africans to face trial in Cuba for piracy and murder. President Martin Van Buren was willing to agree to the requests of the Spanish Ambassador but the Abolitionist Movement took up the cause of the Africans and mounted a legal defense on their behalf. The plight of the Africans was initially taken up by Lewis Tappan, Simeon S. Jocelyn and the Reverend Joshua Leavitt who was editor of the anti-slavery journal, Emancipator. The publicity surrounding the case brought help from many Abolitionists including John Quincy Adams.
Amistad Slave Ship for kids: La Amistad Case and John Quincy Adams
The La Amistad case attracted even more prominence due to the support of John Quincy Adams, a former President of the United States and the son of one of the country's most important Founding Fathers. An interpreter obtained a testimony of the events leading to the La Amistad case which was used as a basis of their defense.
Amistad Slave Ship Trial
The abolitionists hired attorney Roger S. Baldwin of Connecticut to defend the case who argued their freedom on the grounds of humanity and justice. On appeal, the United States v. The Amistad case reached the US Supreme Court. The La Amistad case went before the Supreme Court on February 22, 1841 where defending counsel John Quincy Adams successfully argued that the men should be freed. The Supreme Court ruled that the Mende had been illegally transported and held as slaves, and ordered them to be freed. In January 1842, the thirty-five Amistad Africans who had survived the ordeal were returned to their homeland in Africa.
Amistad Slave Ship for kids: La Amistad Case Significance
The La Amistad Slave Ship incident was highly significant:
The La Amistad case was a significant victory for the Abolitionists
The La Amistad case connected the cause of anti-slavery with the nation's basic principles of liberty and equality
Prior to the Dred Scott decision, the La Amistad case was, arguably, the single most important legal case involving slavery during the 1800's
This event was one of the Causes of the Civil War
Black History for kids: Important People and Events
For visitors interested in African American History refer to Black History - People and Events. A useful resource for teachers, kids, schools and colleges undertaking projects for the Black History Month.