The Amistad Incident
In 1839, forty-nine men, one boy, and three girls were taken from their homes, family, and friends, and were sold as slaves. Some owed money and could not pay, some were sold by family or soldiers, and some were captured as they worked near their homes. These people from Mendeland, an area on the west coast of Africa, were made to lie very close to one another in the hold of a ship with hundreds of other people. They were all chained together. Not everyone on the ship spoke the same language, but they had all been born in Africa.
The Africans were being taken across the Atlantic Ocean to Cuba. The voyage took two months, and in the dark crowded ships hold, many Africans grew sick and died. Forty-nine men, one boy, and three girls from Mendeland survived and were sold in Cuba to become slaves on a plantation there. On June 28, 1839, they were all put on another boat, the Amistad, to be taken from Havana, Cuba, to Puerto Principe, Cuba, a distance of about 240 nautical miles.
The boat carried the Africans, a captain named Ramon Ferrer, his crew, and
the two Spaniards, named Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, who had purchased the
Africans as slaves. While the group of Africans did not all come from the same
family or village they understood each other. They wore the same clothes, liked
the same foods, and wore their hair in the same ways: they were of the same
culture. They chose a leader, a young man named Cinque, who tried to communicate
with their captors. The captain, the crew and the two men who had purchased the
Africans were Spaniards with a culture very different from that of the Africans.
The Africans could not understand them and did not know what awaited them at the end of this voyage; Cinque decided to find out. Using sign language, he asked the ships cook what would happen to them. The cook, thinking this was a huge joke, made signs to Cinque that the Africans were to be eaten. Cinque decided to lead the Africans in a revolt to save their lives. In the fight, the captain, the cook and two Africans were killed. The Africans decided to spare the lives of two Spaniards so that they could sail the ship east to Africa. Instead, the Spaniards sailed north, along the coast of the United States
The Amistad was captured by the U. S. Navy two months later, and the group from Mendeland found themselves in another strange land where people spoke very differently, wore different clothes, ate different foods and wore their hair differently. Some of the people they met thought they had been right to fight for their lives. These people spent two years in U. S. Courts proving the Africansí right to freedom, then helped them to return to their families, homes and friends in Africa. As you think about the Mende Africans, their voyage on the ship Amistad, and the people they met in Connecticut, try to put yourself in their place.
Back to lesson