La Amistad

La Amistad

"La Amistad" (Spanish: "Friendship") was a 19th-century two-masted schooner built in the United States but owned by a Spaniard living in Cuba. The ship was notable as the scene of a revolt by African captives being transported from Havana. When they took control of the ship in July 1839 and were later captured by the US Navy, "La Amistad" became a symbol in the movement to abolish slavery. The ship was taken under control by the United States, resulting in a legal battle over the status of the Africans, as importation of slaves into the US had been prohibited since 1808.

The Incident

On July 2 1839, Sengbe Pieh led fellow 53 Africans (49 adults and 4 children), captives being transported aboard "La Amistad" from Havana, in a revolt against their captors. After gaining control of the ship, the Africans demanded to be returned home, but the ship’s navigator deceived them about the course and sailed north along the North American coast to Long Island, New York.

The schooner was taken into custody by the United States Navy and the Africans were taken to Connecticut to be sold as slaves. There ensued a widely publicized court case in New Haven, CT about the ship and the legal status of the African captives. At that time the transport of slaves from Africa to the Americas was illegal , so the ship owners fraudulently described the Africans as having been born in Cuba. The court had to decide if the Africans were to be considered salvage and the property of Naval officers who had taken custody of the ship, whether they were the property of the Cuban buyers, or of Spain as the Queen of Spain claimed, or lastly, if the circumstances of their capture and transportation meant they were free. The issues became the focus of the "Amistad " case, which figured prominently in abolitionism in the United States. In America, the African leader Sengbe Pieh became known as Joseph Cinqué. In Amistad (1841) the Supreme Court ruled the Africans had been illegally held, and the United States arranged for them to be returned to Africa, as they wished.

The Ship

"La Amistad" was a 19th-century two-masted schooner of about convert|120|ft|m. Built in the United States, "La Amistad" was originally named "Friendship" but was she was renamed after being purchased by a Spaniard. Strictly speaking, "La Amistad" was not a slave ship; she was not designed to transport slaves, nor did she engage in the Middle Passage of Africans to the Americas.

"La Amistad" engaged in shorter, coastal trade. The primary cargo carried by "La Amistad" was sugar-industry products, and her normal route ran from Havana to her home port of Guanaja. She also took on passengers and, on occasion, slaves for transport. The captives whom "La Amistad" carried during the historic events had been illegally transported to Cuba aboard the slave ship "Tecora".

More Ships

True slave ships, such as the "Tecora", were designed for the purpose of carrying as many slaves as possible. The largest slave ships carried up to 400 slaves. One distinguishing feature that enabled this efficiency was the half-height "between decks" level. Slaves were chained down in a sitting or lying position, but the area was not high enough for people to stand in. The crew of "La Amistad", lacking the slave quarters, placed half the captives in the main hold, and the other half on deck. The captives were relatively free to move about, which aided their revolt and commandeering of the vessel.

Later years

After being moored at the wharf behind the US Custom House in New London, Connecticut, for a year and a half, "La Amistad" was auctioned off by the U.S. Marshal in October 1840. Captain George Hawford, of Newport, Rhode Island, purchased the vessel and then needed an Act of Congress passed so that he could register her. He renamed her "Ion". In late 1841, he sailed the ship to Bermuda and Saint Thomas with a typical New England cargo of onions, apples, live poultry, and cheese.

After sailing "Ion" for a few years, Hawford sold the ship in Guadeloupe in 1844. There is no record of what became of the "Ion" under her new French owners in the Caribbean.

Freedom Schooner Amistad

Between 1998 and 2000, "Freedom Schooner Amistad", a recreation of "La Amistad", was built in Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut, using traditional skills and construction techniques common to wooden schooners built in the 19th century, but using modern materials and engines. The modern day "Amistad" is not an exact replica of "La Amistad", as the ship is slightly longer and has higher freeboard. There were no old blueprints of the original. The new schooner was built using a general knowledge of the Baltimore Clippers and art drawings from the era. Some of the tools used in the project were the same as those that might have been used by a 19th-century shipwright while others were electrically powered. Tri-Coastal Marine [ [ Tri-Coastal Marine] ] , designers of "Freedom Schooner Amistad", used modern computer technology to provide plans for the vessel.

Bronze bolts are used as fastenings throughout the ship. "Freedom Schooner Amistad" has an external ballast keel made of lead and two Caterpillar diesel engines. None of this technology was available to 19th century builders.

"Freedom Schooner Amistad" is operated by Amistad America, Inc., a non-profit organization based in New Haven, Connecticut. [ [ Amistad America Inc.] ] The ship's mission is to educate the public on the history of slavery, discrimination, and civil rights. Her homeport is New Haven, where the "Amistad" trial took place. She also travels to port cities for educational opportunities. The "Freedom Schooner Amistad" is the State Flagship and Tall ship Ambassador of Connecticut. [ [ STATE OF CONNECTICUT, Sites ° Seals ° Symbols] ; "Connecticut State Register & Manual"; retrieved on January 4, 2007]

The Atlantic Freedom Tour

"Freedom Schooner Amistad" set sail on June 21, 2007, from New Haven on the " [ Atlantic Freedom Tour] ", a convert|14000|mi|km|sing=on transatlantic voyage to Great Britain, Lisbon, West Africa, and the Caribbean to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in Britain (1807) and the (1808). The ship arrived in Bristol on 30 August, 2007. [cite web |url= |title=Amistad Sails Into Bristol For Slave Trade Commemorations |accessdate=2007-09-04 |format= |work=24 Hour Museum ]

London was one of the ports of the United Kingdom portion of the "Amistad's" Tour. The schooner sailed up the Thames under the Tower Bridge on August 14, 2007. She moored for several days in London Docklands and attracted great crowds and attention.

August 23, 2007, UNESCO's designated International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade, fell during the ship's visit to Liverpool. Her arrival was marked by the opening of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool, the first museum of its type in the United Kingdom.

"La Amistad" in popular culture

On 2 September 1839, a play entitled "The Long, Low Black Schooner", based on the revolt, opened in New York City and played to full audiences. "La Amistad" was painted black at the time of the revolt.

A 1997 film, "Amistad", directed by Steven Spielberg, dramatized the historical incidents. The film adhered closely to the historical events with minor changes that did not affect the overall account. Major actors were Morgan Freeman, as a freed black man; Anthony Hopkins, as John Quincy Adams; Matthew McConaughey, as an unorthodox, but influential lawyer; and Djimon Hounsou, as Cinque (Sengbe Peah).

Artist Hale Woodruff completed a mural depicting the events that occurred on board the "Amistad". The six-panel sequence is on display at the Savery Library, Talladega College, Alabama. A mural of the ship is embedded in the floor of the library. School tradition prohibits walking on the ship.

In honour of the described events, the name "Amistad" was given to a street in Havana.

The song "My Love Is Your Love" by Whitney Houston references the Amistad: "And the chains of Amistad couldn't hold us."

Malice of the hip-hop supergroup Re-Up Gang references "La Amistad" in his song "20k Money Making Brothers on the Corner" from their mixtape "" with the lyrics: "Big chain around my neck like I’m fresh off The Amistad... We won’t stop ‘till you give us us free."

Rage Against the Machine's song "No Shelter" from the European/Australian/Japanese version of "The Battle of Los Angeles" calls out Spielberg's account by claiming:"Amistad was a whip, the truth was feathered and tarredMemory erased, burned and scarred."


External links

* [ Amistad: Some historical considerations.]
* [ Amistad Atlantic Freedom Tour - The Official website of AMISTAD America Inc.]
* [ Amistad: Seeking Freedom in Connecticut, a National Park Service "Discover Our Shared Heritage" Travel Itinerary]

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