The Amistad

explanatory Essay
2473 words
2473 words

The Amistad

The Amistad was a Spanish ship built in Baltimore for the purpose of transporting slaves. For three years, it sailed the high seas delivering its cargo to various locations. But in August of 1838, a scandalous injustice was uncovered after the ship was seized by an American vessel, the USS Washington, a coast guard ship under the command of Lt. Thomas R. Gedney. Lt. Gedney and his crew towed the Amistad into a New England harbor in Connecticut where soon many controversies amounted and drama would unfold.

For 63 days, the Amistad had been drifting toward the American shoreline. As conditions deteriorated aboard the vessel, it's inhabitants at the time, Africans, sick and dying, were in need of food and water. Desperate, they took a chance, anchored the ship and went aboard land in hopes of trading with natives, the ships cargo for needed supplies. On land, they were confronted by two sea captains, one of whom was named Henry Green. Green convinced the Africans that he would help them sail back to Sierra Leone. Having an ulterior motive, he intended to get a hold of the ship, sail it into port and claim it's cargo for salvage. However, before Green could carry out his plan, the USS Washington arrived, boarded the ship, took the Africans captive, and towed the vessel into New London, Connecticut.

Two Spaniards, Montes and Ruiz, were found aboard the ship and told their side of the story. They claimed the Amistad was traveling with their property of 53 African slaves to Cuba from Havana, when on the fourth day of their voyage the slaves escaped their chains and took control of the ship. Fearing death, they bargained with the slaves promising to return them to Africa, when in fact, they purposely steered the ship ...

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...with the aid of Lewis Tappan and his missionaries, money was raised and the Africans traveled home.

In conclusion, I think it is important to note that during the last trial, it was brought out that the Spanish government was aware, as well as, involved in the illegal slave industry happening on her islands. Also, that Montes and Ruiz were well aware that they had purchased the Africans illegally, as all of their dealings were done under the cover of night. Furthermore, that once the Africans returned to Africa, many left the missionaries and returned to their villages and their native ways.


Cable, M. Black Odyssey: The Case of the Slave Ship Amistad. New York: The Viking Press, 1971.

Jones, H. Mutainy on the Amistad: Thje Saga of a Slave Revolt and Its Impact on America, Abolition, Law & Diplomacy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

In this essay, the author

  • Explains that the amistad was a spanish ship built in baltimore for the purpose of transporting slaves. it sailed the high seas for three years delivering its cargo to various locations.
  • Describes how the amistad drifted toward the american shoreline, where africans, sick and dying, were in need of food and water. they anchored the ship and went aboard land in hopes of trading with natives.
  • Narrates how montes and ruiz were found aboard the ship and told their side of the story. they claimed the amistad was traveling with their property of 53 african slaves to cuba from havana.
  • Explains that slavery trade had been outlawed in the united states colonies for almost 30 years and in spain for 19 years.
  • Explains that abolitionists were active during this time in history. they used the case to publicize the evils of the african slave trade and slavery.
  • Explains that lewis tappan, an admitted christian evangelistic abolitionist, firmly believed slavery was moral wrong and openly opposed it.
  • Explains that the spanish government had become involved in the case, requesting the return of the africans to cuba. they felt the united states had no jurisdiction over this case because it involved subjects of spain.
  • Explains that martin van buren was not out to offend anyone, especially the southerners, nor was he interested in severing the good relationship the united states had with spain.
  • Narrates how the amistad committee had written the president a letter advising that the treaty of 1795 did not apply for this case because of the conflicting claims of property rights and because the africans were kidnapped.
  • Explains that the africans were sent to hartford, connecticut for court. the criminal element went to trial, and the circuit court had no jurisdiction over the charges of murder or mutiny.
  • Explains how tappan brought in dr. josiah gibbs, a linguistic professor from yale, who figured out the native tongue of the africans.
  • Describes how abolitionists convinced two africans to press charges against montes and ruiz for kidnapping, assault, and false imprisonment.
  • Explains that the amistad was in high seas when boarded by the uss washington, and therefore was a case for new york, not connecticut. roger baldwin was to be the leading attorney for the african's defense.
  • Explains that baldwin said the africans were born free and were not subjects of spain. judge judson decided that lt. gedney and his crew were entitled to salvage, but only 1/3 of the vessel's value.
  • Describes how lewis tappan sought the help of former president john qunicy adams, who was anti-slavery. he tried to have the amistad case dismissed, arguing that the united states government was not a party to the case.
  • Analyzes how john quincy adams, representing the defense, pulled apart every part of the government's case. he criticized forsyth for his action with the spanish minister, questioned justice and human rights, discussed the treaty of 1795 and how it applied or didn't.
  • States that the supreme court reversed judge judson's decision of returning the africans to africa in accordance with the anti-slavery trade law of 1808.
  • Explains that the supreme court's decision presented a problem for the africans, who were anxious to return home, but the united states government had no involvement in what happened to them.
  • Concludes that it is important to note that the spanish government was aware of the illegal slave industry happening on her islands. montes and ruiz were well aware that they had purchased the africans illegally.
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