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This led to the Amistad Case of 1841 in which the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Africans aboard L’Amistad, a ship from the Spanish colony of Cuba, should be returned to their homeland and not to Cuba as slaves. Part of a group of 53, Cinque was imported into Cuba with fake identification papers by Portuguese slave traders, then placed on the ship L'Amistad. Soon the Africans freed themselves and revolted. Led by Cinque and another African, Grabau, the slaves took over the ship sparing two men because they believed they could navigate the ship back to Africa.
A U.S. Coast Guard ship, Washington, boarded and towed the ship to New London, Connecticut. The trial on the status of the Amistad's (as the Africans were called) began in January 1840. They had to prove that they had been born in Africa and only recently brought to Cuba in violation of various international bans on the slave trade. The government argued that the plaintiffs should be returned to their Spanish owners, under the treaty of 1795 and a second treaty with Spain ratified in 1821. In March 1841, by an 8-to-1 vote, the Supreme Court determined that the plaintiffs were natives of Africa who had been kidnapped and unlawfully transported to Cuba, in violation of the laws and treaties of Spain.
While not particularly significant for its legal principles, the case brought great attention to the antislavery movement in the United States. It is one of the few Supreme Court decisions abolitionists won before the American Civil War. Abolitionists then raised money to send the Africans back home, and 35 survivors, including Cinque, left in January 1842.
The African American Desk Reference
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture
Copyright 1999 The Stonesong Press Inc. and
The New York Public Library, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Pub.