Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Cinque

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CINQUE, chief of the Mendi Africans, b. in Caw-Mendi, Africa, about 1800. In the spring of 1839 he was captured by slave-traders, with a large company of his countrymen and women, and taken to Havana, Cuba. Fifty-two of them were purchased by Montes and Ruiz, two Cuban planters, and shipped for a port on the southern coast of Cuba, on the schooner “Amistad.” Cinque organized a plan for regaining the freedom of the captives, and, when four days out from Havana, gave the prearranged signal for revolt. The captain of the schooner was killed with one of his crew, and two others were wounded in the fight that followed, while the rest surrendered. The passengers and crew were treated kindly and sent ashore; but Montes and Ruiz, the nominal owners, were retained on board and given to understand that they must navigate the vessel to Africa. The Spaniards managed to steer northward by night and during foggy weather, and after a few days sighted Montauk Point, L. I., where they anchored, and were presently taken in charge by the U. S. coast survey schooner “Washington,” whose commander, Lieut. Gedney, claimed salvage for vessel and cargo. Montes and Ruiz, through the Spanish minister, claimed the Africans as their property. The whole company was sent to Farmington, Conn., where quarters were provided for them pending the decision of the courts. The philanthropists of New England took an active interest in the case, engaged Roger Sherman Baldwin and other eminent lawyers as counsel, and began energetically to educate and convert the heathen thus brought to their doors. It is noteworthy that the residents of the little village where this strange colony was planted soon outgrew their dread of the Africans, and during the months of their stay learned to regard them without apprehension. Cinque exercised a stern rule over them, and would permit no transgression. Many of them, including their chief, learned to read and write a little, and acquired some ideas of civilization. In the mean time the case came up before the U. S. district court for the state of Connecticut, the U. S. district attorney appearing on behalf of Montes and Ruiz as well as of the Spanish minister. Never before had the country been so sharply divided on a question touching slavery. All trials for violation of the law prohibiting the slave-trade had until this time been held before southern courts, and no one had been convicted. The pro-slavery party regarded with natural apprehension the result of such a trial on the soil of a free state. Mr. John Quincy Adams, who was the anti-slavery leader in the house of representatives at the time, introduced resolutions calling on the president to communicate to congress the process or authority by which these Africans, charged with no crime, were kept in custody. Further than this, it was held by the advanced anti-slavery leaders that slavery and slave-dealing constitute a perpetual war between the enslaver and the enslaved. They alleged the right of persons held as were the “‘Amistad’ captives,” not only to overpower their guards whenever they could do so, but to hold them as prisoners and the ship and cargo as their lawful prize. They held that the U. S. government had no right to interfere between the Africans and the Cuban planters, and that the former had a valid claim to the ship and her cargo. After a protracted investigation the Connecticut court decided against the libellants, who promptly appealed to the U. S. supreme court. The venerable John Quincy Adams appeared with Mr. Baldwin as counsel. The progress of the trial was watched with intense interest by the pro-slavery and anti-slavery factions throughout the country. The court eventually declared in substance that these Africans were born free, that they had never been legally held as slaves, and that they were amenable to no punishment for anything they had done. They were sent back to their native land at the public expense, and a Mendi mission was established and is still maintained for their benefit by the American missionary association not far from Sierra Leone.