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On this date in 2007, a ship bearing the name Amistad once again sailed the Atlantic. This voyage traced a 19th-century route of the slave trade.
The Freedom Schooner Amistad, a near-replica of the ship that housed a slave revolt, departed from its homeport in New Haven for a 14,000-mile voyage to Nova Scotia, Britain, and Africa. "We believe that the Amistad story is a landmark case in American history and deserves to be told and recognized," said William Minter, chairman of the project. "It's a very exciting venture."
In 1839, more than 50 African captives en route to Cuba on the Amistad schooner rebelled and took over the ship. After landing on Long Island, they were captured and jailed in New Haven. With help from area abolitionists, the surviving Africans won their freedom in a historic court battle that started in Connecticut and ended in the U.S. Supreme Court. Former President John Quincy Adams represented the slaves. Their story was depicted in the 1997 movie directed by Steven Spielberg. Freedom Schooner Amistad, constructed at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, was launched in 2000. The ship has traveled around the country, but this is its first voyage tracing the slave route.
"I've seen people just stand mute," said Capt. William Pinkney, who will sail for part of the voyage. "It's a touchstone to a past that rarely gets talked about." The new voyage retraced the slave industry triangle with stops at nearly 20 Atlantic ports that played an important role in the trade. Ten college students from Britain and the U. S. joined the crew and learned the legacy of the slave trade. Through live Webcasts and e-mail correspondence with schools and museums around the world, the students shared their experiences with millions of other students worldwide.
"I just thought it would be a brilliant experience," said Saphra Ross, a 20-year-old college student from Britain taking the voyage. "This story has inspired me more to be a lawyer." Seth Bruin, a 19-year-old college student from Maryland, said he hopes to incorporate what he learns into a career as an American history teacher. "Slavery is just as big a part of U.S. history as the signing of the constitution," Bruin said. "They don't spend the time that needs to be spent on it in school."
Freedom Schooner Amistad set sail on June 21, 2007, from New Haven on the "Atlantic Freedom Tour," a 14,000-mile transatlantic voyage to Great Britain, Lisbon, West Africa, and the Caribbean to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the Atlantic slave trade in Britain (1807) and the United States (1808). The ship arrived in Bristol on August 30.
London was one of the ports of the United Kingdom portion of the Amistad's Tour. The schooner sailed up the Thames under the Tower Bridge on August 14, 2007, and moored for several days in London Docklands, where it attracted a great deal of attention.
UNESCO designated International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade on August 23, 2007, which fell during the ship's visit to Liverpool and was marked by the opening of the International Slavery Museum in Liverpool--the first museum of its type to open in the United Kingdom.
The Amistad returned to the United States in 2008 to commemorate the bicentenary of legislation to ban the importation of slaves.
Actor John Amos, who starred in "Roots," is filming the voyage for a documentary. "Including 'Roots,' this is the most exciting project I have ever been involved with," Amos said in a statement. "The ship Amistad represents social justice, collaboration, racial equality, freedom, and human rights. This story needs to be told in a way that everyone feels they own a part of the ship and her voyage."
"Freedom Schooner Amistad" was operated by Amistad America, Inc., based in New Haven, Connecticut. The ship made several commemorative voyages: one in 2007 and one in 2010 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its 2000 launching at Mystic Seaport. It undertook a two-year refit at Mystic Seaport from 2010 and was subsequently mainly used for sea training in Maine and film work.
The Associated Press
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