In 1839 Jose Ruiz purchased 49 slaves in Havana, Cuba. With his friend, Pedro Montez, who had acquired four new slaves, Ruiz hired Ramon Ferrer to take them in his schooner Amistad, to Puerto Principe, a settlement further down the coast.
On 2nd July, 1839, the slaves, led by Joseph Cinque, killed Ramon Ferrer, and took possession of his ship. Cinque ordered the navigator to take them back to Africa but after 63 days at sea the ship was intercepted by Lieutenant Gedney and the United States brig Washington, half a mile from the shore of Long Island. The Amistad was then towed into New London, Connecticut.
Joseph Cinque and the other Africans were imprisoned in New Haven. James Covey, a sailor on a British ship, was employed to interview the Africans to discover what had taken place. The Spanish government insisted that the mutineers be returned to Cuba. President Martin van Buren was sympathetic to these demands but insisted that the men would be first tried for murder.
Lewis Tappan and James Pennington took up the African's case and argued that while slavery was legal in Cuba, importation of slaves from Africa was not. The judge agreed, and ruled that the Africans had been kidnapped and had the right to use violence to escape from captivity.
The United States government appealed against this decision and the case appeared before the Supreme Court. The former president, John Quincy Adams, was so moved by the plight of Joseph Cinque and his fellow Africans, that he volunteered to represent them. Although now seventy-three, his passionate eight-hour speech won the argument and the mutineers were released.
Lewis Tappan and the anti-slavery movement helped fund the return of the 35 surviving Africans to Sierra Leone. They arrived in January, 1842, along with five missionaries and teachers who formed a Christian anti-slavery mission in the country.
Slavery in the United States (£1.29)