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Amistad Rebellion Facts
La Amistad Oil Painting
The Amistad Rebellion of 1839 happened a long time ago, yet it still fascinates the American people, and is shown in many books and movies even to this day. It is an important event in the history of slavery in the United States since it brought to light many features of the slave trade that people of the time had not considered. It propelled the abolition movement that eventually brought the slave trade to a close.
It started out as a routine delivery of Africans that were to be sold as slaves. The Spanish slave schooner La Amistad set sail from Havana on June 28, 1839 to go to the new plantations of Puerto Principe (Camaguey) Cuba. It had forty-nine men and four children aboard.
History of the Amistad Slavery Revolt
Four days into the journey, four of the men who were held below deck climbed up to the main deck. They grabbed knives that were meant to cut sugar canes and used them to fight against the ship captain and sailors. The leaders of this rebellion were Cinque, Faquorna, Moru and Kimbo.
They killed the Captain and seized control of the ship. They captured two men who had considered themselves to be the African's owners, Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes. Since they did not know how to navigate the ship, they ordered the Spaniards to take them back to Africa. Since Montes had been a merchant ship captain, he used his knowledge to deceive the Africans. He steered the schooner to go slowly towards Africa by day, but during the night, they turned it around to go north and west, hoping to stay near the Caribbean islands and the North American coast in order to be intercepted and saved.
After eight weeks of travel, a U.S. Navy survey ship captured the Amistad near Culloden Point, Long Island and carried the schooner to New London, Connecticut. The Africans were thrown in jail while the case went to trial.
The Spanish diplomats and many Americans slaveholders expected the African rebels to be tried and executed for their crimes of mutiny, murder and piracy. But there were abolitionists who insisted that they be allowed to go free. It caused a large custody battle between Spain and the United States.
This created an epic legal battle that was well covered by the newspapers of the time. Cinque pleaded for his freedom, and his speech was printed in the newspapers of the time. The New York Sun covered the entire trial, and spoke glowingly about the Africans.
This legal battle went all the way up to the U.S. Supreme court, where former president John Quincy Adams argued for the Africans' freedom. They were eventually freed. After a fund-raising tour, they were able to set sail for their African homelands in November of 1839.