Civil Rights and Protests

Slavery and Anti-Slavery

What was the Amistad incident and why was it important to slavery and the anti-slavery movement?

Joseph Cinqué (1811–1879) was born in Sierra Leone and in 1839 Spaniards purchased him and put him aboard the slave ship Amistad headed for Puerto Principe. A raging storm exhausted the crew who tried to control the ship during the turbulence. Then Cinqué led an uprising with the slaves aboard, seized the ship, and killed all crew members except two who were saved to sail the ship back to Africa. Instead, the ship, with about fifty Africans and Mende warrior Cinqué, headed to the northwest and landed off the coast of New York state where the insurrectionists were captured. When abolitionists learned of the event, they worked in support of the captives and enabled Cinqué to raise funds to appeal their case. Cinqué was an excellent speaker and his Mende language was translated into English as he joined the abolitionists’ lecture circuit. John Quincy Adams won the case for the slaves before the U.S. Supreme Court, in 1841, and they were awarded their freedom and allowed to return to Africa. The case caused further controversy between the North and South. It also documents an early slave revolt, the successful work of abolitionists, and shows how a group of Africans survived the litigation process and returned to their homeland.

When was slavery outlawed in Europe?

The slave trade ended in Britain in 1807, when authorities agreed with the growing number of abolitionists (those who argued that slavery is immoral and violates Christian beliefs) and outlawed the trade. In 1833 slavery was abolished throughout the British colonies as the culmination of the great anti-slavery movement in Great Britain. Still, trade on the black market continued until Britain stepped up its enforcement of its anti-slavery law by conducting naval blockades and surprise raids off the African coast, effectively closing the trade. The slave trade as it had been known officially came to an end after 1870, when it was outlawed throughout the Americas. Throughout the world today, the United Nations works to abolish slavery and other systems of forced labor.

While on the slave ship Amistad bound for Puerto Principe, Joseph Cinqué led a rebellion that killed most of the crew. Back in the U.S.A., he was put on trial, where he was successfully defended by John Quincy Adams.


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