The Amistad Incident of 1839, an event rooted in Connecticut history, reflects the struggle for equality and is the first human rights case to be argued in the American courts on behalf of Africans.
In 1839, 53 Africans were kidnapped from West Africa and sold into the transatlantic slave trade. Shackled aboard the Portuguese slave vessel Tecora, the 49 men and four children (three girls and a boy) were brought to Havana, Cuba, where they were fraudulently classified as native, Cuban-born slaves.
Purchased illegally by Spanish planters Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, they were transferred to the schooner La Amistad (Friendship) for transport to another part of the island. Three days into the journey, led by a 25-year-old Mende rice farmer named Sengbe Pieh, or “Cinque” to his Spanish captors, the Africans seized the ship, killed the captain and the cook, and ordered the planters to sail to Africa. After 63 days, La Amistad and her “cargo” were seized as salvage by the USS Washington near Montauk Point, Long Island, and towed to New London harbor.
The Africans were held in a New Haven jail on charges of murder. The case took on historic proportions when former President John Quincy Adams successfully argued before the United States Supreme Court on behalf of the captives. In 1841, the 35 surviving Africans were returned to Africa.
This exhibit has been prepared by AMISTAD America, Inc., a non-profit educational organization that promotes improved relationships between races and cultures. The exhibit’s name, “All We Want Is Make Us Free,” is from a phrase coined by Kali, a young child held captive aboard La Amistad, as he wrote to John Quincy Adams petitioning the former president to defend the Amistad captives before the Supreme Court.
The re-created Freedom Schooner Amistad, launched in March 2000 and based at Long Wharf Pier in New Haven, symbolizes the lessons and legacies of freedom, justice, perseverance, cooperation, and leadership arising from the Amistad Incident. It serves as a floating classroom, icon, and as a monument to the millions of souls broken or lost as a result of the transatlantic slave trade. For more information about AMISTAD America, visit www.amistadamerica.org.
Babbidge Library, Gallery on the Plaza
Curators: David Avery, Andrea Leiser, and Joy Collins