Live Free or Die!

March 9, 1841
Amistad Mutiny Survivors Freed

Would you rather die than lose your freedom? More than 150 years ago, a group of people from the West African country of Sierra Leone answered yes to that question. After being abducted from their home country by Portuguese slave traders and placed on the schooner Amistad, 53 of the Africans followed the lead of Joseph Cinque in a revolt against the ship’s crew. Cinque was a member of the Mende tribe. He lived in the Mende territory of Sierra Leone on the West Coast of Africa. He was the son of a chief.

On March 9, 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court freed the 35 Africans who survived the mutiny and cleared the way for their return home.

Under Cinque’s leadership, the mutineers spared the life of the Amistad navigator, ordering him to sail the ship back to Africa. Instead, the navigator guided the schooner northward, where it was discovered drifting off the coast of Long Island and was then dragged into New London, Connecticut, by the U.S. Navy.

President Martin Van Buren, who wanted to gain the political support of pro-slavery voters, wanted Cinque and his followers to stand trial for mutiny, but a judge disagreed and ordered the government to escort the Africans back to their home country.

The fight between Cinque mutineers and President Van Buren didn’t end there. In an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, former President John Quincy Adams argued that the Africans on the Amistad were illegally enslaved and “were entitled to all the kindness and good offices due from a humane and Christian nation.”

The court agreed, and Adams’s victory in the Amistad case was a significant success for the movement to abolish slavery. Have you seen or heard about the movie “Amistad” that was made about this case?