Amistad (1997)





Director:    Steven Spielberg

Starring:     Morgan Freeman, Anthony Hopkins, Matthew McConaughey, Nigel Hawthorne, Djimon Hounsou, David Paymer, Pete Postlewaite, Stellan Skarsgard, Anna Paquin, Tomas Milian, Austin Pendleton, Allan Rich, Paul Guilfoyle, Peter Firth, Xander Berkeley, Jeremy Northam.

slave ship rebellion leads to 1839 court room drama



There is a slave revolt led by Cinque (Djimon Hounsou) on the Spanish slave ship La Amistad (Friendship) and the slave shipget then gets picked up by the Americans.  The Spanish want their ship and cargo and the whole matter goes to a U.S. court in 1839. Ex-president John Quincy Adams (Anthony Hopkins) defends the ex-slaves.

It is hard to get to like Cinque because he is always mad and unable to think rationally to work for the best interests of all until almost the end.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 


Historical Background: 

Amistad mutiny

July 2, 1839  -- the Spanish slave-carrying schooner Amistad sailing from Havana to Puerto Príncipe, Cuba, is the setting of a revolt by 53 slaves recently abducted from Africa.

The leader is Joseph Cinqué; they kill the captain and others, but spare the life of the navigator, so that he can sail them home to Sierra Leone. The navigator sails them north instead and two months later the U.S. Navy seizes the ship off Long Island, N.Y., and tows it into New London, Conn. The mutineers are held jailed in New Haven, Connecticut.

1840  -- the Spanish embassy demands the return of the Africans to Cuba, so a trial begins in Hartford, Connecticut federal court. New England Abolitionist Lewis Tappan encourages public sympathy for the Africans, while the U.S. government takes the proslavery side. Up for reelection, U.S. President Martin Van Buren orders a Navy ship sent to Connecticut to return the Africans to Cuba immediately after the trial.

Prosecutors argue that, as slaves, the mutineers are subject to the laws governing conduct between slaves and their masters. But trial testimony shows that while slavery is legal in Cuba, importation of slaves from Africa is not. Therefore, the judge rules that the Africans are victims of kidnapping and had every right to escape from their captors.

1841  -- the U.S. government appeals the case before the U.S. Supreme Court.  Congressman and former president John Quincy Adams argues eloquently for the Amistad rebels. The Supreme Court upholds the lower court.

Private and missionary society donations help the 35 surviving Africans secure passage home.

January 1842  -- along with five missionaries and teachers who intend to found a Christian mission, they arrive in Sierra Leone.

1846  -- incorporation of a committee formed to defend the slaves as the American Missionary Association.

Spain continued to insist that the United States pay indemnification for the Cuban vessel, but the U.S. Congress never resolved the question and then came the American Civil War.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)