Amistad : the slave revolt on a ship

You may have seen the movie Amistad (1997) directed by Steven Spielberg. This movie is actually based on a real slave revolt that happened in 1839 on the slave ship La Amistad. Let us tell you a bit more about what happened.

Amistad the movie

Amistad, the movie from Steven Spielberg which helped making this slave revolt famous to the public


What was La Amistad?

La Amistad was a 19th century trade ship owned by a Spaniard captain. It was mainly used to transport sugar-industry products between Cuba and the other Caribbean islands. But sometimes it would also transport slaves, to trade them or to deliver them to their new location of labour.


La Amistad

La Amistad, Spanish trade-ship


What happened on the ship?

La Amistad took 53 slaves on board from La Havana to deliver them to a sugar plantation to another port in Cuba. Those 53 slaves were Mende, one the two largest ethnics groups in Sierra Leone, and were captured in Mendiland then illegally deported from Africa to Cuba to be sold as slaves. As La Amistad was not built to be a slave trade ship in the first place, the 49 adults and 4 children were able to move around the ship pretty freely. While they were fomenting their escape, some of the slaves found a rusty file and managed to saw through their chains.

After 3 days at sea, those slaves were free of their manacles and found some machete-like knives, the one they were supposed to use to cut the cane in the plantations. They invaded the main deck and took control of the whole ship, being leaded by the rebellious Sengbe Pieh. In revenge, they killed most of the crew but actually let the two slave owners alive to guide them back to the motherland. However, as they had no experience in navigation, they were deceived by the slave owners who guided them to Long Island, New York. The slave-controlled ship was discovered by an American ship and was taken into American custody. As the Mende slaves were captured, they were sent to jail in Connecticut while waiting for their trial to happen, waiting to know if they were free men or not.


Amistad, slaves killing captain

The Captain of the ship, Don Ramon Ferrer, killed by the rebellious slaves he illegally captured and transported



After a now famous long trial about the status of the Mende captives, it was ruled that the slaves were illegally captured and transported, therefore their rebellion was self-defence. The court had no choice but to give them the status of free men, as it was what they were when they arrived in the United States. 35 of them went back to Africa and the rest stayed in the US to fight against slavery. In conclusion, we can learn from this story that fighting is the best way to get your freedom, as was also proved by the Haitian slave revolt!


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  • Britney Clark on

    Oh wow I really enjoyed that story. Thank you for sharing!!!! ✊🏾

  • Joshua Holley on

    The truth about is is seldomly revealed…Thanks for spreading more light guys!

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