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Amistad case

The Amistad Case is regarded as a very significant legal battle in American history. It is remembered as one of the earliest civil rights cases that were held at the Supreme Court, and it was also the first time that the abolitionists were granted victory in a trial that involved slavery. The Amistad Case was held in 1841 as a consequence of the rebellion of African slaves that took place on a Spanish schooner called Amistad in the year 1839.

  • Wikipedia: A complete account of the Amistad affair, from the mutiny to the ruling of the trial

The leader of the rebellion was a rice farmer called Sengbe Pieh, and he gave an account of how he was abducted into slavery. According to him, he was walking on the road one day in the village of Mende, and suddenly, four men seized him and tied him up. He was then sent to a nearby village. A few days later, he was sold to a man called Bamadzha who was the son of a king from another tribe. One month after that, he was taken to the Gallinas River, where he was sold to a European slave trader. There, he met other Africans who were also kidnapped while they were walking on the road. However, not all slaves were captured that way. Some of them were seized when slave traders raided their villages, while others were sold because they committed crimes or their families needed money. Soon, the slaves were taken aboard the Tecora, which was a Portuguese slave ship that was used to transport African slaves to Cuba. At the Cuban slave market, a sugar planter by the name of Jose Ruiz and his companion Pedro Montes bought 53 slaves, including Sengbe Pieh, who was given a new name, Jose Cinque.

  • West Valley: An account of the Amistad kidnapping, mutiny, and trial

The slaves were taken to the port of Havana to board the Amistad, which was headed for Puerto Principe. On board the Amistad, the slaves were given very little food and water, and they were flogged if they tried to eat or drink more than their ration. After three days at sea, Cinque found a nail, and he used it to open the lock on his iron collar. Then, he freed all the other slaves, and they armed themselves with knives that were found in the cargo. They overpowered the crew quite easily, but the captain put up a struggle and killed one of the Africans. The Africans responded by killing the captain and the cook. They got hold of Ruiz and Montes, and ordered them to sail the ship back to Africa. But the cunning Spaniards had other plans. They sailed the ship east during the day, and at night, they turned it back towards the other direction.

  • Gibbs Magazine: A comprehensive account of the rise of Cinque and the Amistad mutiny
  • Family Education: Educational materials on the rebellion that took place on the Amistad

Eventually, the Amistad ended up in US waters. On August 25, 1839, Cinque and the Africans made a landing at Culloden Point, Long Island, and they asked a few Americans to help them sail the ship to Africa. At this point, the Amistad was spotted by the crew of the navy brig USS Washington. The crew thought that they could make some money selling the ship's cargo and the slaves, and they brought the ship to New London, Connecticut, where slavery was not illegal. The Spaniards told the crew what happened on the Amistad, and the Africans were sent to a jail in New Haven on charges of murder and mutiny.

  • Wikipedia: Information about the USS Washington and the Amistad
  • History Matters: Learning aids to help high school students understand the Amistad Case

Ruiz and Montes filed a suit to regain possession of their cargo and slaves. The US had a commercial treaty with Spain at that time, which was supposed to work to the Spaniards' advantage. However, abolitionists intervened, and they hired a New Haven lawyer called Roger Baldwin to defend the Africans. The Spanish government requested the US government to send the Africans back to Cuba for trail. In response to this request, President Martin Van Buren supported the Spaniards' claims, and appointed US District Attorney William Holabaird to handle the case. The US government was expecting the court to rule in favor of the Spaniards, but Judge Andrew Judson said that the Africans were illegally abducted into slavery, and the US government should send them back to Africa. The case was brought to the Supreme Court. Former US President and Congressman John Quincy Adams showed up at the Supreme Court as a member of the abolitionists' team, and US Attorney General Henry Gilpin was appointed to represent the US government. The Supreme Court ruled that the Africans should not be returned to Africa, but they should be free men on American soil.

  • History Central: An account of the arguments that John Quincy Adams made before the Supreme Court during the Amistad Case
  • Amistad Lesson Plan: A summary project revolving around the Amistad case with help from paralegal schools in deciphering the legal jargon.

Without the means to return to their homeland, the Africans moved to Farmington, Connecticut. The Amistad Committee helped to raise fund for their voyage home by appealing to local churches. Soon, a total amount of $1,840 was raised, and the Gentleman Barque was chartered to send the Africans home. In November 1841, the Gentleman sailed for Africa, and it reached Freetown, Sierra Leone in January the next year.