The Freedom Schooner "Amistad"
and the Trial of the Century

Georgetown, SC

November 13th, 2001

While traveling through South Carolina, Laura came across an article announcing the arrival of the Freedom Schooner Amistad to the Georgetown harbor. The ship, a familiar name to many who saw the movie by the same name, was particularly familiar to us as we had watched it being built. Back in October of 1999, we had once again been traveling south though New England and had stopped to write a story on the Mystic Sea Port Museum in Connecticut. One of the main attractions to be seen was in a large boat building in the far back of the museum. Here, under careful scrutiny of historians and antique boat building craftsmen, a near-scale model of the famous ship was being constructed from as close as possible, materials that were used on the original ship, and in a manner which resembled the original construction methods. The reason for such an undertaking was to commemorate one of America's most famous trials, involving civil rights. The saga started on the distant shores of west Africa in 1839 when 53 Africans were captured and sold into the transatlantic slave traffic. They were transported to Cuba where they were falsely registered as Cuban born slaves. Importing slaves to Cuba was already illegal. They were bought by two Spanish traders, Jose Puiz and Pedro Montez who decided to transport them to a different part of the Island aboard the schooner La Amistad. The Amistad was by no means, the pride of the sea, having served for many years as a coastal cargo hauler, it was ill-equipped to transport humans. The voyage was quite harsh, made worse by the reported sadistic treatment of the ship's captain and the cook, who told the captives that they were going to be killed and eaten. On the third day out, fate provided a chance and a 25 year old rice farmer named Cinque, who was the son of an African tribal chief lead a revolt aboard ship. The Captain died in the fighting, the cook was killed. Amazingly, with little or no experience at sea travel, the newly freed Africans sailed north, along the American coast during which time they made some 30 stops for food and water without interference. But their odyssey came to an end near Long Island, New York, when they were seized by the USS Washington and towed to New London, CT. Soon it was common knowledge that the crew had killed the captain and seized the ship and although no crime had been committed in US waters, they were charged with piracy and murder. They were subsequently transferred to the New Haven jail for their trial. However the inevitable, as described in the New York Times, was not to be. Former U.S. President John Quincy Adams stepped into the ring and presented a defense. Continuing his court arguments into the appeal process, Adams found himself standing before the United States Supreme Court in defense of his clients. Here he successfully argued that the defendants were free men of color, transported against their will and thus had a right to resist by any means available. With the Supreme Court's decision, the would-be slaves found themselves free men in America. In 1841, some three years later, the 35 surviving members of this epic tale returned to their homeland in Africa, and the landmark decision of the Supreme court took its rightful place in American history. Now, two years after we stood on the platform and watched the workmen meticulously laying the flooring of this famous ship's replica, we found ourselves standing at the gangplank as guests of its captain and crew. Although Captain Pinkney was away at the time, Co-Captain Mary Fena took time out to sit on deck and describe the purpose and intention of the new ship. She talked about the ship as a symbol of the famous incident, bringing light onto the life and conditions of those involved. When in port, the ship serves as a floating class room, telling the story of capture, enslavement and trial. After the story is told, they sail off again to another port of call to start the process over again. A somewhat small ship by today's standards, the Freedom Amistad measures 129 feet to its bow spit and is only 23 feet at its widest point. It drafts about 10 feet of water. At this time it has a crew of 11, and is on its maiden voyage. It is under the management of Amistad American Inc. As the first group of tourists arrived we moved forward to the bow where we joined Meredith Andrews, a 28 year old from Noank CT. As we chatted, she talked about growing up with cat boats back home, and of the grueling 4 day non stop trip on the Amistad from Norfolk to Georgetown. The tour of duty is 4 months with possible renewal. The story, the ship, and the people who tell it are quite something to see. If you're around the Atlantic coast and happen to see that the Amistad is anchored near by, by all means go see it. It is a great piece of American History. Interested in learning their latest ports-of-call? Try:

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