What is this?

cinque-thumbOur exhibit, Making Connecticut, showcases over 500 objects, images, and documents from the CHS collection. “What is this?” posts will highlight an object from the exhibit and explore its importance in Connecticut history every other week. What is this object? What is the story behind it?

Portrait of Joseph Cinqué

Cinqué, Chief of the Amistad Captives, engraved by John Sartain, after a painting by Nathaniel Jocelyn

In 1839, 53 Africans, who had been kidnapped or sold into slavery in Sierra Leone, were transported to Cuba in violation of international law banning the slave trade. These 49 men and 4 children (3 girls and a boy) were sold at auction in Havana and put on board a Spanish schooner named La Amistad, headed for sugar plantations elsewhere in Cuba.

On the morning of July 2, the Africans, armed with sugar cane machetes, revolted, gained control of the vessel, and tried to sail home to Africa. After 8 weeks at sea, the Amistad was intercepted by a U.S. Navy ship and brought into New London Harbor in August 1839.

Scene of the uprising on the Amistad, published in A History of the Amistad Captives by John Warner Barber, New Haven, 1840.

Scene of the uprising on the Amistad, published in A History of the Amistad Captives by John Warner Barber, New Haven, 1840.

Quickly questions arose about who these men were and what were they doing on this ship. The Spanish slave traders and the African captives both tried to convince officials in New London of their version of the story. The Spanish government insisted that the Amistad and its “cargo” be sent back to Cuba. Abolitionists used the case to focus national attention on the issue of slavery. A two-year legal battle began, during which the Africans were jailed in New Haven and the surrounding area.

The Amistad case went to the Supreme Court of the United States. On March 9, 1841, the Africans were declared free people, who had been taken captive illegally. After months of living in Farmington and raising funds for the voyage, all of the surviving Africans returned to Africa.

For more information about first hand accounts on the Amistad captives, visit Barbara Austen’s latest post.

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