The revolt aboard The Amistad and the subsequent Supreme Court trial indicated a shift in U.S. views towards slavery. In a sense, Joseph Cinque heralded the beginning of the end of slavery in the United States.
Joseph Cinque was born some time around 1814 in west Africa. In 1839, he was captured and sold into slavery. At the time of his capture, Cinque was a husband and a father of three. Cinque was taken to Cuba and sold to slavers along with 110 others. By that time in history, almost every nation involved with the Atlantic Slave Trade (also called The Middle Passage) had outlawed international slave trading. Cinque’s capture and enslavement was in violation of agreed upon international laws. Obviously, there was still a black market for slaves.
Once in Cuba, Joseph Cinque and his fellow captives were placed on a ship to be re-sold at another port. That ship was called La Amistad. The name means “friendship”.
The journey was supposed to be a four day trip along the coast of Cuba. However, one of the slaves aboard La Amistad had hidden a file. Joseph Cinque freed himself and the other Africans using that file. That’s how the revolt started.
The Africans killed the ship’s cook and captain. Two Africans also died in the revolt. Cinque and the others spared two of the ship’s navigators and demanded that they return them to Africa. The two navigators tricked the Africans and sailed the ship north along the coast of the United States. Eventually, they anchored off the coast of Long Island, New York where they were discovered by the United States. Immediately, the Africans aboard were taken into custody; the illegal slave traffickers were free to go.
Legal proceedings followed. Essentially, the Spaniards wanted their “slaves” returned. The Americans wanted the rights to the Spaniards’ captives due to the fact they had discovered La Amistad. The Africans said they were no one’s property, and they wanted to go home.
Eventually, the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court where former president John Quincy Adams was one of those arguing on behalf of Cinque and the Africans. The heart of Adam’s argument was the idea that property laws were inapplicable because the captives were not property but instead, human beings.
President Martin Van Buren was opposed to freeing the African captives, because he feared offending Spain.
The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the captives. In 1842, Cinque and the other captives returned to Sierra Leone. Not much is known about his life after that.
Why he should be remembered: Joseph Cinque’s revolt on La Amistad brought the issue to the forefront of U.S. politics. Two presidents faced off over the matter of slavery and humans as property. United States v. The Amistad emboldened abolitionist efforts by proving that humans could also be freed in a court of law.
Read more about Joseph Cinque and The Amistad trial.
28 Black People You Probably Don’t Know About (But You Should):
16) Jourdon Anderson
18) Diane Nash
Keep coming back for another article each day of Black History Month.