History Links

The Story of Amistad

SlaveThe story of the Amistad is about hearts and hands; hearts that cared and hands that helped.

You may be surprised to learn that ASD has strong connections to the Amistad story. Read about the hearts and hands that worked to win the Africans' freedom and return them to their home.

In 1839, slavery was still practiced in America. Africans were taken from their homes and sold to work on plantations. This is what happened to the Africans aboard the Amistad. They were part of a large group illegally taken from West Africa and put aboard the Tecora, which was a Portugese slave trading ship. When they arrived in Havana, Cuba, some of the Africans were bought by two Spanish men and put aboard the Amistad. They were going to work in another part of Cuba.

Sengbe Pieh DrawingSengbe Pieh, whose Spanish name was Cinque, was the chosen by the group of Africans to be their leader. Another man, Grabbeau, was his 'second'. While sailing in the West Indies, the Amistad's cook told Sengbe, using gestures, that he would kill and eat them. They could not let this happen!

Most of the Africans on the Amistad spoke Mende, but not all. Gestures helped them understand each other clearly. Grabbeau helped, too, as he could speak 3 different African languages. They devised a plan to win their freedom. One night, Sengbe, Grabbeau and some other slaves killed most of the crew and took over the ship.

Slaves WallboardThey wanted to sail back to Africa. They made the two Spanish crewmen sail east during the day. But at night, the Spanish crewmen changed direction and sailed west, toward the United States. After sailing for 2 months, they finally arrived at Long Island Sound. There the Africans were captured and jailed as murderers - but they were only defending their freedom!


ShacklesThe Africans were imprisoned in New Haven. Many people living near Long Island Sound heard about the Africans and their capture. They were curious to see the Africans and paid 5 cents each to see them in the prison. Many people thought slavery was not fair and wanted to help them.

John Quincy Adams

The trial progressed through the court system, from local to state to, finally, the Supreme Court where former U.S. President John Quincy Adams agreed to defend them. The case was won and the Africans were freed! Now they needed help to return to their home.