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Amistad (ship)

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Amistad (ship)

This article is about the ship. For other meanings, see Amistad (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 41°21′40″N 71°57′58″W / 41.361°N 71.966°W / 41.361; -71.966

La Amistad
Career (United States)
Name: Friendship
Career (Honduras)
Name: La Amistad
Port of registry: Honduras, Guanaja
Career (United States)
Name: Ion
Owner: Captain George Hawford, Newport, Rhode Island
Acquired: 1840
Career (Guadaloupe)
Acquired: 1844
General characteristics
Length: 120 ft (37 m)
Sail plan: schooner

La Amistad (pronounced: [la a.misˈtað]; Spanish: Friendship) was a 19th-century two-masted schooner built in Spain and owned by a Spaniard living in Cuba. While it was transporting Mende captives originally kidnapped in Sierra Leone from Havana, Cuba,[1] in July 1839, the Africans took control of the ship. La Amistad was captured off the coast of Long Island by the Revenue Cutter USS Washington. The Mende and La Amistad were interned while court proceedings were undertaken for their disposition. The case, United States v. The Amistad (1841) was finally decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in favor of the Mende, restoring their freedom. It became a symbol in the movement to abolish slavery.

The mutiny

Template:Suppression of the Slave Trade

Amistad, a Spanish slave ship, left Havana, Cuba for Puerto Principe, Cuba. The ship carried 53 Mende captives (49 adults and 4 children), who had been captured from today's Sierra Leone to be sold into slavery in Cuba.[2] On July 2, Sengbe Pieh (later known in the United States as Joseph Cinqué) led the captives in a revolt against their captors. The Mende had been brought into Havana aboard the larger specialized vessel Tecora and were being taken to a smaller port closer to a sugar plantation. In the main hold below decks, the captives found a rusty file. Freeing themselves, they quickly went up on deck and, armed with machete-like cane knives,[3] successfully gained control of the ship. They killed the captain and other crew members.[2] When they demanded to be returned home, the ship's navigator, Don Pedro Montez, deceived them about their course and sailed the ship north along the North American coast to the eastern tip of Long Island, New York. Discovered by the Revenue Cutter USRC Washington, La Amistad was taken into custody. The Mende were interned at New Haven, Connecticut, while the courts settled their legal status and conflicting claims regarding La Amistad's ownership.[2]

Court case

A widely publicized court case ensued in New Haven, Connecticut, about the ship and the legal status of the Mende captives. It became a cause célèbre among abolitionists in the United States. At the time, the United States and Britain had prohibited the international slave trade.[4] The ship's owners fraudulently described the Mende as having been born in Cuba to avoid the law against the international trade to the Americas. The court had to determine if the Mende were to be considered salvage and the property of Naval officers who had taken custody of the ship, the property of the Cuban buyers, or the property of Spain as Queen Isabella II of Spain claimed; or if the circumstances of their capture and transportation meant they were free.[2]

On appeal, the United States v. The Amistad case reached the US Supreme Court. In 1841, it ruled that the Mende had been illegally transported and held as slaves, and ordered them freed.[2] Thirty-five[2] survivors returned to Africa in 1842, aided by funds raised by the United Missionary Society.

The ship

La Amistad was a 19th-century two-masted schooner of about 120 feet (37 m). Built in the United States, La Amistad was originally named Friendship but she was renamed after being purchased by a Spaniard. Strictly speaking, La Amistad was not a slave ship; she was not designed to transport large cargoes of slaves, nor did she engage in the Middle Passage of Africans to the Americas. The crew of La Amistad, lacking purpose-built 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.

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 who revolted while aboard La Amistad had been illegally transported from Africa to Cuba aboard the slave ship Tecora.

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 to register her. He renamed her Ion. In late 1841, he sailed Ion 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 her in Guadeloupe in 1844. There is no record of what became of Ion under her new French owners in the Caribbean.


  • Freedom Schooner Amistad
Freedom Schooner Amistad
Mystic Seaport in 2010.
Career (United States)
Owner: Amistad America, Inc., New Haven, Connecticut
Builder: Mystic Seaport
Laid down: 1998
Launched: 25 March 2000
General characteristics
Tons burthen: 136 L. tons
Length: 80.7 ft (24.6 m)
Beam: 22.9 ft (7.0 m)
Draft: 10.1 ft (3.1 m)
Propulsion: Sail, 2 Caterpillar diesel engines
Sail plan: Topsail schooner

Between 1998 and 2000, artisans at Mystic Seaport, Mystic, Connecticut, built a replica of La Amistad, using traditional skills and construction techniques common to wooden schooners built in the 19th century, but using modern materials and engines. They christened the ship Freedom Schooner Amistad. The modern-day ship is not an exact replica of La Amistad, as she 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 powered. Tri-Coastal Marine,[5] designers of Freedom Schooner Amistad, used modern computer technology to develop 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 was operated by Amistad America, Inc., based in New Haven, Connecticut. The ship's mission was to educate the public on the history of slavery, abolition, discrimination, and civil rights. Her homeport is New Haven, where the Amistad trial took place. She also traveled to port cities for educational opportunities. Freedom Schooner Amistad was the State Flagship and Tall ship Ambassador of Connecticut.[6] In 2013 Amistad America lost its non-profit organization status after failing to file tax returns for three years amid concern of the accountability for public funding from the state of Connecticut.[7] [8][9]

Freedom Schooner Amistad made several commemorative voyages: one in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in Britain (1807) and the United States (1808),[10] and one in 2010 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its 2000 launching at Mystic Seaport. She undertook a two-year refit at Mystic Seaport from 2010 and has subsequently been mainly used for sea training in Maine, and film work.[11]

  • Amistad Research Center

The Amistad Research Center at Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana, is devoted to research about slavery, abolition, civil rights and African Americans; it commemorates the revolt of slaves on the ship by the same name. A collection of portraits of La Amistad survivors, that were drawn by William H. Townsend during the survivors trial, are held in the collection of Yale University.[2]

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 houses. La Amistad was painted black at the time of the revolt.
  • In January 2011, Random House published Ardency, a collection of poems written over twenty years by American poet Kevin Young which "gathers here a chorus of voices that tells the story of the Africans who mutinied on board the slave ship Amistad".

See also


Further reading

  • Owens, William A. (1997). Black Mutiny: The Revolt on the Schooner Amistad,
    Black Classic Press, p.322, Book
  • Pesci, David (1997) Amistad
    Da Capo Press, p.292, Book

External links

  • Travel Itinerary
  • Captive
  • sailing, YouTube video
  • The Amistad Affair
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