Portrait by Nathaniel Jocelyn/New Haven Museum and Historical Society
February 14, 2013
Cinqué was a West African man who was the most prominent defendant in the case, United States v. The Amistad, in which it was found that he and 51 others had been victims of the illegal Atlantic slave trade. Kidnapped in Mende (in the hinterland of what is now Sierra Leone) and carried across the Atlantic Ocean to Spanish Cuba, as stated by the American National Biography, he was one of many victims of an illegal but still thriving international slave trade. After his arrival in Havana in 1839, Cinqué was transferred aboard the schooner, Amistad. Cinqué and some of his fellow captives managed to seize control of the vessel and attempted to sail home but were intercepted by the U.S. Navy as they veered into southern New England. When the Navy discovered what had happened, they charged the Africans with mutiny and murder, and took them to New Haven, to await trial. Black and white abolitionists championed the rebels' cause over a period of several years, and after a series of legal challenges that culminated in a dramatic Supreme Court showdown, the survivors were finally allowed to return home.