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Amistad: A Critical Interpretation
In 1839, slaves aboard the ship called Amistad revolted to win back their freedom at the same time sailing to one Cuban port from another. Their leader was Sengbe Pieh, better known as Joseph Cinque, who was a young Mende man. Most of the slaves had been captured from Seirra Leone and sold to Spanish slave traders. Eventually they won back their freedom in 1841, after two years of debating whether or not they should be returned to their homes in West Africa or remain so called "slaves" as Cuban property. The revolt had a great impact in the United States. It touched many hearts but at the same time embarrassed some. It changed the course of American History and bettered the lives of African American culture.
The hero of this story, Sengbe Pieh, was born in the year 1813 in the town of Mani located in Upper Mende country. He was said to have been the son of a local chief. He was married and had a son and two daughters. Sengbe, who was a farmer, was captured while going to his field one day. He was taken to a nearby village where he stayed for three days. Sengbe was forced to Lomboko later on and sold to the richest slave keeper there.
More and more people came as imprisoned slaves. They were all shipped from Lomboko on the ship Tecora and taken to Havana in Cuba in June. Jose Ruiz, a Spanish plantation owner, bought Sengbe and forty-eight other slaves to work for his sugar plantation at Puerto Principe three hundred miles from Havana. Pedro Montes bought four children, heading for the same port. On June 26, the fifty- three Africans were shoved on the Spanish ship called La Amistad. They were whipped and beaten, shoved and starved, and put into a room below deck that wasn't even tall enough for the Africans to stand.
Sengbe couldn't stand the torture, as well as all of the others. He pulled with all his might at a nail that was sticking out of a board in the deck. He used it to unshackle himself and the others, which led to a surprise revolt against the Spanish sailors. They killed all but two, Ruiz and Montes. Sengbe spared them so that they could sail them back home. The Africans had taken the clothes and weapons from the lifeless Spaniards and used them. Sengbe was sure he'd be homebound but Ruiz and Montes sailed them toward Cuban waters at night. For two months, the ship had sailed a zigzag course and ended up on the coastline of the United States.
The Amistad sailed to Long Island, New York in late August 1839. Sengbe and the others got off to gather food and water and to talk to the local seamen to get them to take them back to Africa. It was easier said than done. They were captured and taken to the jail in New Haven. Judge Judson examined the ship's documents and ordered that the Africans be tried for murder. Meanwhile, Ruiz had renamed Sengbe Pieh to Joseph Cinque to show that he wasn't an imported African, which would break the law of 1820. Others were renamed as well.
On September 14, all of the prisoners were moved to the capital of Connecticut for the trial on September 17. After three days of 'legal battling', Judge Smith Thompson decided that the Circuit Court had no control over the charges of murder, since all of the crimes were committed on a Spanish ship and in Spanish waters. This case should be decided in a District Court and the release of the small girls was rejected.
The interpreter of the case wasn't very effective so J.W. Gibbs, a Professor of Theology and Sacred Literature at Yale Divinity School, and Attorney Roger Baldwin learned a lot about the captives. They learned to count from one to ten in Mende and went up to every African sailor they met counting to see if they understood. They soon found James Covey to understand the language of Mende.
While in the jail cell, a young African named Fala died from extreme illness.There was an uprising about who would bury him, Yamba, a leader of the Temne, or Sengbe. Sengbe was chosen to. Covey had to explain the importance of the burial to Baldwin, and that not just anybody could bury the body. It had to be someone chosen and Cinque was chosen to because of his leadership.
The second trial opened at Hartford, Connecticut, on November 19, 1839, but adjourned to January because certain witnesses weren't there. On January 13, 1840, Judge Judson finally reached his verdict: the Amistad captives had been kidnapped and sold into slavery; the Spanish had violated the law and the Africans were free and were to be transported back to Africa. During the trial, Sengbe had realized the importance of the trial and how much he wanted to go home so he stood and shouted in English, "Give us free" Give us free!" But many people were against this sudden outburst. President Van Buren ordered District Attorney Holabird to go against the decision.
Abolitionists had persuaded the ex-president, John Quincy Adams to lead the defense of the case. He didn't want anything to do with it. He didn't want to jeopardize the Africans by failing to win. According to usinfo.state.gov his diary entry was as follows:
"The world, the flesh, and all the devils in hell are arrayed against any man who now in this North American Union shall dare to join the standard of Almighty God to put down the African slave trade; and what can I, upon the verge of my 74th birthday, with a shaken hand, a darkening eye, a drowsy brain, and with my faculties dropping from me one by one as the teeth are dropping from my head -- what can I do for the cause of God and man, for the progress of human emancipation, for the suppression of the African slave-trade? Yet my conscience presses me on; let me but die upon the breach."
This means that Adams eventually accepted the case. Baldwin prepared a defense and opened the case, but on February 24 addressed the court for a total of four and a half hours. On March 9, 1841, theUnited States Supreme Court stated its verdict: the Africans were free, and Adams told the principal leader of the Amistad Committee, Lewis Tappan, right away. He said, "Thanks, thanks in the name of humanity and of justice, to YOU."
The Africans were released from custody and taken to Farmington,Connecticut. They received more education for the rest of 1841. President Van Buren did not want to give a ship to take them home, so the Amistad Committee took full responsibility for them and raised funds for the ship. Finally, when enough funds had been raised they could sail home. The surviving thirty-five Africans would take the long journey to Sierra Leone. Before the ship left, Lewis Tappan talked to the passengers and thanked them. It was a very moving scene and most of the witnesses of the speech only wept.
Sengbe, also well known as Cinque, sailed home only to find that his village had been torn apart and no remains of his family were found. The whole journey,through everything that had happened, he only thought about returning home and what he saw was nothing like what he thought about. As for the others, they returned home. Some found the same as Sengbe; some went back to what they remembered.
By the time the Amistad case ended, it poisoned feelings between the anti-slavery North and the slave-holding South that it has to be counted as one of the events leading to the beginning of the Civil War in 1860. It also drew the abolitionists together, even though the case wasn't an attack on slavery.
In conclusion, the Amistad Rebellion had tremendous consequences in two different continents. Not many people think of it today, but it will forever be a story of determination, belief, and bravery. It will continue to develop the course of history, thanks to Sengbe Pieh.
amistad critical interpretation slaves aboard ship called amistad revolted back their freedom same time sailing cuban port from another their leader sengbe pieh better known joseph cinque young mende most slaves been captured from seirra leone sold spanish slave traders eventually they back their freedom after years debating whether they should returned homes west africa remain called slaves cuban property revolt great impact united states touched many hearts same time embarrassed some changed course american history bettered lives african american culture hero this story sengbe pieh born year town mani located upper mende country said have been local chief married daughters sengbe farmer captured while going field taken nearby village where stayed three days forced lomboko later sold richest slave keeper there more more people came imprisoned they were shipped from lomboko ship tecora taken havana cuba june jose ruiz spanish plantation owner bought forty eight other work sugar plantation puerto principe three hundred miles havana pedro montes bought four children heading same port june fifty three africans were shoved spanish ship called amistad were whipped beaten shoved starved into room below deck that wasn even tall enough africans stand couldn stand torture well others pulled with might nail that sticking board deck used unshackle himself others which surprise revolt against sailors killed ruiz montes spared them that could sail them back home africans taken clothes weapons lifeless spaniards used them sure homebound ruiz montes sailed toward cuban waters night months sailed zigzag course ended coastline united states sailed long island york late august others gather food water talk local seamen take africa easier said than done captured jail haven judge judson examined documents ordered tried murder meanwhile renamed pieh joseph cinque show wasn imported african which would break renamed well september prisoners moved capital connecticut trial september after days legal battling judge smith thompson decided circuit court control over charges murder since crimes committed waters this case should decided district court release small girls rejected interpreter case wasn very effective gibbs professor theology sacred literature yale divinity school attorney roger baldwin learned about captives learned count mende went every african sailor counting understood soon found james covey understand language while jail cell young named fala died extreme illness there uprising about would bury yamba leader temne chosen covey explain importance burial baldwin just anybody could bury body someone chosen cinque chosen because leadership second trial opened hartford connecticut november adjourned january because certain witnesses weren there january judge judson finally reached verdict captives been kidnapped sold into slavery violated free transported africa during trial realized importance much wanted home stood shouted english give free give free many people against this sudden outburst president buren ordered district attorney holabird against decision abolitionists persuaded president john quincy adams lead defense case didn want anything with didn want jeopardize failing according usinfo state diary entry follows world flesh devils hell arrayed north american union shall dare join standard almighty down slave trade what upon verge birthday with shaken hand darkening drowsy brain faculties dropping teeth dropping head what cause progress human emancipation suppression trade conscience presses upon breach means adams eventually accepted baldwin prepared defense opened february addressed court total four half hours march theunited states supreme stated verdict adams told principal leader committee lewis tappan right away said thanks thanks name humanity justice released custody farmington connecticut received more education rest president buren want give take home committee took full responsibility raised funds finally when enough funds raised could sail surviving thirty five would take long journey sierra leone before left lewis tappan talked passengers thanked very moving scene most witnesses speech only wept also well known only find village torn apart remains family found whole journey through everything happened only thought about returning what nothing like thought returned some found some went remembered time ended poisoned feelings between anti slavery north holding south counted events leading beginning civil also drew abolitionists together even though attack slavery conclusion rebellion tremendous consequences different continents many people think today will forever story determination belief bravery will continue develop course history thanks
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