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The Amistad Captives:

Freedom on Trial

In 1840, all eyes were on Connecticut. Our state was at the center of an international court case about slavery and freedom.

The case began far away on the Caribbean island of Cuba. Cuba was then part of Spain.

The island of Cuba off of the southern coast of the United States. This maps dates to about 1770, 70 years before The Amistad case.

In 1839 a ship called La Amistad left Havana, Cuba. It was carrying 53 enslaved Africans—including four children.

The Africans had been captured in their homeland of Sierra Leone. They had been sold as slaves and taken to Cuba. Two Spanish men bought them to work on their plantation. Their plantation was on another part of Cuba. They would sail around the island. It would take a few days.

While at sea, the Africans revolted. There was a violent struggle. The captain and the cook were killed. In the fighting, two Africans were killed, too. But the Africans were able to take control of the ship.

The Africans revolt and take control of the Amistad, 1839.

Their leader was Joseph Cinque. He ordered the crew to sail the ship back to Africa. They sailed east during the day. They could tell their direction by the location of the sun. But at night, the crew tricked them and sailed north. The crew knew how to tell their direction by where the stars were in the night sky. They sailed for weeks.

They reached Long Island, New York. Some of the Africans went on shore. They needed fresh water and food. They were discovered. Sailors from the USS Washington caught them. They freed the plantation owners. The Africans were put in jail, first in New London, and then in New Haven, and Hartford, Connecticut.

Joseph Cinque, leader of the Amistad captives.

Their capture made the front page of newspapers across the country. Some Americans wanted to end slavery. They wanted to help the Africans. They wanted them to get a fair trial. The trial would decide if the Africans were free or the property of the plantation owners. It would decide if the Africans were guilty of murder.

The case took two years. Finally, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the Africans were free. It decided the Africans were not guilty of murder. The Africans could finally go home. But how could they get there?

People in Farmington took them in until they could get home. Many people across the United States gave money. Finally, in November 1841, 35 of the Africans returned to Sierra Leone. It had been a very long journey.

Slavery in Connecticut was ended in 1848. It was ended in the United States in 1865. It took a civil war to end slavery in America.

Find Out More!

Read more about Cinque HERE.

Visit The Amistad Committee’s website to see the replica of the Amistad.

Visit the Connecticut Freedom Trail website for more information about Connecticut’s story of slavery and freedom. You’ll find a map and list of places in Connecticut connected to the Amistad story.

Visit the Amistad Center for Art & Culture in Hartford

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We thank Tracey Wilson and Liz Devine for their assistance with this article.