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Movies are entertainment that usually have a happy ending. This story has a tragic ending. When Francis Ford Coppola was asked why his movie “The Godfather II” was not historically accurate, he replied: “I am a film director, not a historian. ” The story of the Amistad revolt has been revised during 168 years. 1840 1953 1997
Cinqué (Sengbe Pieh) Born 1813 in the village of Mani, land of the Mendis West Coast of Africa Kidnapped and sold into slavery for a debt he owed Prince Birmaja, son of King Shiarka, Jan. 1839. Portrait by abolitionist Nathaniel Jocelyn
Taken to slave stockade of Spaniard Pedro Blanco at Lomboko island (today within Sierra Leone). Cinque shipped to Cuba with 200 captives. One of them, Burnah, had learned English from British traders in Sierra Leone. In 1817, Great Britain had paid Spain £ 400, 000 for a treaty to suppress the slave trade. The Cuban colonial governor received $10 for each bozal slave imported. Ownership papers were then issued as ladino slaves with Spanish names.
June 26, 1839: Planter Jose Ruiz bought 49 slaves in Havana for $450 each; planter Pedro Montez bought 3 girls and 1 boy, and shipped with them to Puerto Principe 300 miles away.
La Amistad schooner cleared port on June 27, 1839, with slaves, cargo, and $8, 000 in gold doubloons. Ruiz and Montes accompanied Captain Ramon Ferrer, two crew members, and two Cuban mulatto slaves Celestino Ferrer and Antonio.
La Amistad (Friendship): Two-masted schooner, built in Baltimore, 120 feet long, 50 tons burthen, painted black with a green bottom, and large eagle on the bow.
Causes of rebellion: 300 -mile 3 -day trip delayed at sea by storm, food & water rations cut in half. Flogging and beating by crew of five Africans on deck for stealing water. Hot-iron branding by crew of Celestino Ferrer, the captain’s mulatto slave and cook, for infraction. Celestino replied to Burnah that upon arrival, “they would have their throats cut, be chopped to pieces, and salted down for meat for the Spaniards. He pointed to some barrels of beef on deck, then to an empty barrel. ‘You will fill that barrel, ’ he told them. ”
Captain Ferrer and Celestino killed in uprising at 4 AM, July 2. 2 slaves killed, 2 crewmen fled on boat. Ruiz and Montes forced to sail east during daylight, covertly sailed west at nighttime. Amistad sailed in a zig-zag pattern from the Bahamas to Long Island, N. Y. Six Africans sickened and died during the voyage. Spotted near N. Y. Aug. 21, assumed pirates, U. S. Navy sent 4 cutters after them.
Amistad anchors on Culloden Point, Long Island, N. Y. , on Aug. 25. Cinque, takes Antonio, Burnah and six others on land buy water, food, and gin. Five were naked. The brig USS Washington arrived the next day, commanded by Lt. Richard Meade, seized the Amistad and its passengers, and escorted them to New London, CT. Federal district Judge Andrew Judson holds a hearing on the brig, in which the Spaniards demand as property the 39 men and 4 African children, and Antonio. Lts. Meade and Gedney claim the schooner & cargo as prize. The Africans are indicted for murder and piracy and put in New Haven jail. Trial to be held Sept. 17 in Hartford. Abolitionists form Amistad Committee for financial support and attorneys on Sept. 4.
Amistad Committee: N. Y. merchant Lewis Tappan (1788 -1863); Rev. Joshua Leavitt (1794 -1973), editor of The Emancipator; and Rev. Simeon Jocelyn, white pastor of a black congregation. Fanatical evangelists active in temperance and abolitionist causes. Tappan provided African translator John Ferry, a Kissi native, and hired three lawyers to defend the Amistad captives. Roger Sherman Baldwin (1793 -1863) was chief defense counsel. Amistad fame got him elected governor of Connecticut (1844) and US Senator (1847). Lewis Tappan Joshua Leavitt Roger Sherman Baldwin
The Amistad trial in Federal District Court in Hartford, on Sept. 19, prompted a legal, political, and international problem between the U. S. and Spain. The Treaty of 1795 between the U. S. and Spain stipulated that: “All ships and merchandise, of what nature soever, which shall be rescued out of the hands of any pirates or robbers on the high seas, shall be brought into some port of either State, and shall be delivered to the custody of the officers of that port, in order to be taken care of, and restored entire to the true proprietor, as soon as due and sufficient proof shall be made concerning the property thereof. ”
Spaniards warned that if the piracy and murder went unpunished, the slaves in Cuba would hear of it from abolitionists and would revolt like they did in Haiti in 1803. Southerners feared similar slave revolts in their states.
20 abolitionists guarded the jail day and night to prevent the Africans from being returned to Cuba. They plotted to take them to Canada if released on bail.
Fowler, L. N. "Phrenological Developments of Joseph Cinquez, Alias Ginqua. " American Phrenological Journal and Miscellany, vol. 2 (1840), 136 -138. Examined Cinque on Sept. 5, made a plaster cast of his head. “His head measures most in the region of those faculties giving a love of liberty, independence, determination, ambition, regard for his country, and for what he thinks is sacred and right; also, good practical talents and powers of observation, shrewdness, tact, and management, joined with an uncommon degree of moral courage and pride of character. ” “His cerebral organisation, as a whole, I should think, was also superior to the majority of negroes in our own country. ”
Jail daily routine: 2 hours chopping wood for fuel, cleaning rooms. 2 hours studying reading and writing English. Recreation and somersaults on the Green, with spectators tossing coins. Yale faculty members Rev. George Day and Rev. Leonard Bacon hold evening prayers, Bible study, and song with abolitionists and divinity students.
Baldwin claimed that the Africans acted in self-defense, and liberated themselves from illegal restrain. Tappan has the Africans file civil suit against Ruiz and Montes for assault and battery and false imprisonment. They are jailed in NYC on Oct. 17. Liberator, Sept. 20, 1839 Spaniards refuse to post $1, 000 bond. Charges dropped for Montes, Ruiz bailed lowered to $100 and freed. Nov. 19, 1839: Case postponed after testimony of Dr. Richard Madden, of the Court of Mixed Commission in Havana, saying Africans are bozales. Jan. 8, 1840: Cinque and 2 Africans testify of their capture, enslavement, middle passage, sale in Havana, and revolt. Nov. 2, 1839
Jan. 13, 1840: District Court awards salvage to Lt. Gedney and the Spaniards, who are not present. Africans are declared not legally enslaved and placed under the charge of President Martin Van Buren to be returned to Africa. Rules that murder and piracy charges should be tried by Spanish court, but since that law only applied to bozales, no need to return African captives to Cuba. Case appealed to U. S. Circuit Court by Spaniards and the president. North American & Daily Advertiser, Jan 4, 1840 Emancipator, March 26, 1840 April 29, 1840: Circuit Court upholds lower court and passes it to U. S. Supreme Court. Old State House, Hartford
Feb. 22, 1841: Baldwin defends the Africans during 2 days before U. S. Supreme Court in the Capitol. John Quincy Adams spoke 8½ hours during two days. Denounced the Executive for pressuring the Judiciary. Had not practiced before the Supreme Court in 30 years. Afflicted by coachman’s death. Court recessed during death of Justice Barbour in his sleep. March 9: Supreme Court affirmed lower courts decisions, reversed the decision to place them at the disposal of the President to be returned to Africa, and declared them immediately free.
Tappan decides to keep the Africans in the U. S. at least one more year, to Christianize the “pagans and Muslims, ” insure against returning to native customs, and sending them back to Africa as missionaries. Africans quartered in the carriage house of abolitionist Austin Williams, Farmington, in spite of their quick departure demands. Prohibited from buying alcohol & snuff. Given Christian names. Daily worked the fields, recited lessons, prayers, religious hymns. Evenings & Sundays exhibited in churches for Bible reading, spelling, Mendi songs, to raise funds for abolitionist missions. Tappan wanted to prolong their stay a second year, prompting one to suicide.
North American (Philadelphia) Aug. 11, 1841
Nov. 27, 1841: 35 Africans leave for Sierra Leone with two African American and three white missionaries. Cinque and others quickly dispersed. Margru returned to study at Oberlin College 1848 -49, went back to Sierra Leone as missionary Sara Margru Kinson.
Since Roe vs. Wade (1973) abortion has been the most divisive issue in the U. S. since slavery.
Elian Gonzales arrived on an inner tube raft in the U. S. on Thanksgiving Day 1999. His divorced mother perished at sea. Clinton Administration secretly negotiated his return to Cuba. The legal decision was removed from a Florida family court and remitted to the U. S. Immigration Service. Forcibly sent back. Fidel Castro used Elian as a political trophy.