AMISTAD MUTINY Slave mutinies were a constant threat to captains of ships engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. It has been estimated that nearly two hundred slave-inspired mutinies occurred during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries alone. A classic example of this form of black resistance to enslavement is the Amistad mutiny of 1839.
The Amistad was a Spanish coastal schooner which set sail from the Havana slave market to the port of Granaja, Puerto Principe on June 28, 1839. Enroute, the African human cargo, led by Singbe-Pieh (called "Joseph Cinque" by the Spanish), successfully revolted and slew the ship's captain and most of the crew with sugar cane machetes. Although Cinque and his fellow mutineers had ordered the remaining Spanish aboard to steer an eastern course toward Africa, navigational trickery on the part of the Spanish ultimately resulted in the Amistad reaching Long Island, near Montauk Point, in American waters. Subsequently seized by an American naval vessel, the Amistad mutineers were arrested and charged with piracy on the high seas.
The Van Buren administration in Washington, hoping to avoid an international confrontation with Spain and domestic alienation of southern slave-holding interests, wanted to return the Amistad mutineers to their Spanish "owners." American abolitionists, however, quickly came to the defense of Cinque and his fellow Africans. The abolitionists enlisted the support of former
president John Quincy Adams, who eloquently defended the Amistad mutineers before the United States Supreme Court in 1841. Adams argued that the Africans themselves had been kidnapped illegally according to the various international prohibitions against the slave trade and were, therefore, free. The Court, with one dissenting vote, agreed with Adams and declared that the former Spanish slaves were indeed free and entitled to return to their African homeland.