Image depicting one panel of a three-part mural by Hale Woodruff entitled "Rising Up." This scene, created in 1939, depicts the artist's view of how the Amistad mutiny may have occurred. Image online, via Wikimedia Commons. PD
The July 2, 1839 revolt began when the ship’s cook, Celestino, made a poor attempt at a bad joke. Trying to convince Sengbe and others they would be killed and eaten when the ship reached port, Celestino sealed his own fate.
Sengbe found a nail which he used to unlock his companions’ chains. Free of their shackles, Sengbe and Grabeau - a fellow captive - searched for weapons. They found sugar cane knives: blades, two-feet long, attached to steel handles.
Using these machete-like weapons, the Africans killed Captain Ferrer and Celestino. Grabeau convinced Sengbe not to kill the two Spaniards (Ruiz and Montez) who had “bought” them. The captives would need someone to sail the ship back to Africa.
Because the sun was behind him as he sailed from home, Sengbe knew the sun had to be in front of him when he returned. To fool the Africans, Ruiz and Montez sailed the ship away from Cuba during the day and toward Cuba at night. The Spaniards hoped they would be rescued by British anti-slave patrols.
When no rescue occurred, the Spaniards set sail up the U.S. coast.