Amistad Incident - WHEN PEOPLE were CARGO

WHEN PEOPLE were CARGO (Illustration) American History African American History Civil Rights Law and Politics Nineteenth Century Life Slaves and Slave Owners Ethics Trials

This lithograph, by John Childs, depicts “Cinque Addressing his Compatriots.” It is online via the U.S. National Archives, courtesy of the Chicago Historical Society.


There is another part of the Amistad story ... a troubling part ... when people were considered "cargo" and "slaves" were listed as inventory.  This is the rest of the Amistad story.

  • When Lt. Thomas Gedney discovered La Amistad on the shore of Long Island, he was commander of the navy brig U.S. Peter G. Washington. At the time, the law allowed naval officers such as Gedney to claim salvage rights when they found vessels such as Amistad
  • Gedney and his fellow officers did file a salvage claim on August 29, 1839. Gedney gave a written statement (his "libel") to the court, detailing what he'd found. He estimated the entire detailed salvage claim to be worth $40,000.  He valued the "slaves" at $25,000.
  • Roger Sherman Baldwin, and others, responded to Lt. Gedney’s claim as "proctor" for the Amistad captives. This link takes you to page one of the proctor’s January 7, 1840 answer to Gedney’s salvage claim.
  • By the time the Amistad captives went home, most could write their own names. This link displays their actual signatures.

Other "odds and ends" of history, about the Amistad Incident, help us to end this story:

  • To learn more about the scope of the Amistad project, and to study all kinds of related materials, check out Mystic Seaport’s wonderful Amistad site.

  • John Quincy Adams worried about keeping his temper in check during the argument to the Supreme Court. Here is his December 12, 1840 diary entry.

  • Supreme Court Justice Story wrote the opinion that gave the Amistad captives their freedom. Here is Justice Story in later years.

  • This link is to the official White House portrait and biography of President Martin Van Buren.

  • Romare Bearden created a wonderful 20th century collage of Sengbe and the Amistad uprising. This link directs you to that picture.

  • The National Archives and Records Administration has created a site, with teaching materials, on the Amistad incident.

  • The Library of Congress also has a web site on the Amistad mutiny.
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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Apr 13, 2017

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