The Amistad 1839 – Origins of Rebellion

The Amistad 1839 – Origins of Rebellion

The Amistad 1839 – Origins of Rebellion
The Amistad 1839 – Origins of Rebellion – Cinqué, chief of the Amistad captives.

The Amistad Mutiny occurred on the slave ship Amistad on the coast of Cuba on July 2, 1839, and had significant political and legal ramifications for the American abolition movement. The mutineers were apprehended and convicted in the United States, and the country’s antislavery forces won an unexpected win in 1841 when the United States Supreme Court liberated the rebels. The American Missionary Association grew out of a group created to safeguard slaves (incorporated 1846).

The Spanish schooner Amistad was travelling from Havana to Puerto Prncipe, Cuba, on July 2, 1839, when the ship’s reluctant passengers, 53 African slaves newly kidnapped, revolted. They killed the captain and the cook but spared the life of a Spanish navigator so that he could sail them back to Sierra Leone, headed by Joseph Cinqué. Instead, the navigator was able to steer the Amistad northward. The ship was taken by the US Navy off the coast of Long Island, New York, and hauled to New London, Connecticut, two months later. The mutineers were imprisoned in a jail at New Haven, Connecticut, which allowed slavery.

The Spanish embassy’s demand for the Africans’ repatriation to Cuba resulted in a federal court hearing in Hartford, Connecticut, in 1840. Lewis Tappan, a New England abolitionist, elicited popular sympathy for the African slaves, while the US government supported slavery. President Martin Van Buren of the United States despatched a Navy ship to Connecticut to repatriate the Africans to Cuba as soon as the trial was over. He was a reelection contender that year, and he expected a decision against the defendants, so he removed the Africans before abolitionists could appeal to a higher court.

Prosecutors maintained that the mutineers were subject to the statutes governing slave-master relations since they were slaves. However, despite the fact that slavery was permitted in Cuba, the importation of slaves from Africa was not. As a result, the judge determined that the Africans were victims of kidnapping and had the right to flee their kidnappers in any way they saw fit. The next year, when the United States government appealed the case to the United States Supreme Court, congressman and former president John Quincy Adams argued eloquently for the Amistad rebels. The lower court’s decision was affirmed by the Supreme Court, and private and missionary organization donations assisted the 35 Africans who survived to return home. In January 1842, they landed in Sierra Leone with five missionaries and professors with the intention of establishing a Christian mission.

Spain has insisted on the United States paying compensation for the Cuban ship. The Amistad issue was litigated in the United States Congress on and off for more than two decades, until the American Civil War broke out in 1861.

SEE ALSO:

The Dred Scott Decision (1857);

The Emancipation Proclamation (1863);

The Abolition of Slavery (1865);

The Brazilian Slave Emancipation Act (1888).

Sources:

The Amistad 1839 – Origins of Rebellion

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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