La Amistad – July 1839

In July of 1839, a ship known as La Amistad left Africa with a load of black slaves, bound for Cuba. Somewhere near the coast of America the slaves rebelled, gained control of the ship, killed the captain, and ordered the surviving crew to return them to Africa.

Instead, the ship’s navigator charted a course north skirting the coastline of America. Off Long Island, they were intercepted and taken by an American warship and ordered to port at New Haven, Connecticut. The fifty-three slaves, known as the Mende, were interned awaiting a decision as to their ownership.

Officially the slave trade in America had been outlawed and many believed the Mende should be declared freemen. But since La Amistad was a Spanish ship and slave trading was still legal in Spain the Cuban owners of the slaves claimed that the Mende were their rightful property and should be returned to Cuba.

The controversial case was taken up by the US Supreme Court which ruled that “the Mende had been illegally transported and held as slaves, and had rebelled in self-defense. It ordered them freed.”

The story of the Mende and La Amistad was told in a Stephen Speilberg film, Amistad, in 1997 and can be rented at Amazon Prime. Following is a trailer of the film.



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