John Cinque was a son to a headman from Sierra Leone’s Mani Village known as Mende who was a renowned trader and rice. Available records show that Cinque was born in (c1813- 1879). Cinque is also known as Sengbe Pieh. and is popular for staging a mutiny against slavery in Cuba in 1839 in a Cuban Amistad Ship. Originally he was called Sengbe Pieh. but Spaniards renamed him as John Cinque. His move was a milestone to the slaves who were escaping from slavery as it was ruled that slaves freeing from shackles of slavery be treated as free men.
Cinque like other blacks found his way into slavery due to rice debts he had not cleared and for that reason he was captured and sold to the slave masters who were looking for slaves to work in their plantations in the New World. This paper is going to conduct an in depth research on the life of Joseph Cinque as an enslaved man, his trials and achievements in his life. Joseph Cinque was originally known as Sengbe Pieh and the later name was given to him by the Spanish (Dalzell, Fred).
He was a married and had three children when he was illegally captured and sold to slave masters who put him in their ship, Portuguese slave ship Tecors. Contrary to the international law prohibiting slavery, Cinque was captured in Sierra Leone and sold to a notorious Spanish slave dealer at Lomboko Island that is located at river Gallilas’ mouth. Later in 1839 he was resold by the Spanish to another slave dealer at Havana together with other 51 Mendians where they were destined to be taken to Cuban sugar plantations at Guanaja, Puerto Principe.
According to 1814’s treaty that was signed between Spain and Great Britain, slavery was to become an illegal activity after 1820 and thus what the Spaniards were doing was a violation of the treaty. “The ship was bound for Cuba in contravention of laws agreed to by Spain that had outlawed the importation of salves into the New world” (Miller 158) In Havana, the captured persons were sold at night on auction and that was how Joseph Cinque among other fifty three Africans found themselves in the hands of Pedro Monte and his colleague Jose Ruiz.
They bought one African man at four hundred and fifty dollars and were destined to be slaves for ever as they were now their property. The two slave dealers decided to relocate them to Puerto principle using their boat, the Amistad but fortunately or unfortunately this boat as it approached the Cuban Coast on 30th June, Cinque incited the other slaves to attack their captors, a mission they accomplished without much difficulties (Horton 258)
What exactly happened was that enslaved persons led by Cinque freed themselves and broke the ships’ arsenal and armed themselves with weapons that were stored there and attacked the Spaniards. This incident was not very different from other slave rebellions that were occurring in the Americas such as the Southampton uprising of 1831 that was spearheaded by Nat Turner. In this case, Cinque killed the ship’s captain and the cook and then they took the two masters hostage commanding them to steer the ship back to Sierra Leone.
Monte had no other option but to do as he was ordered but he was cunning enough to ride the boat slowly towards African coast during the daytime but at night he would reverse the direction and ride the boat fast heading northwest, a direction that landed him to the coast of the Long Island sometimes back in August, 1839 (Horton 259). The journey was long as it was not anticipated to last that long and to make the matter worse, they had already killed the cook.
For this reason, ten of the captured slaves did not make it and were found dead by the American officers who were on patrol in the sea and the stable one were taken to the Port of New London on 27th August where slavery was not yet illegal. Later, they were taken to a court where Andrew T. Judson, the judge ordered an inquiry into the incident and ruled that the Africans be temporarily taken to New Haven before they would be taken to Hartford where they would meet the United States Circuit Court jury (Muller 158).
According to Niemi (23), the judge was particularly very concerned with this case and wanted the African captives to be set free in fact, contrary to the expectations of many, he referred to these men as heroes for resisting slavery likening them to the African leaders who sold them off to the Spaniards. He tried to liaise with other influential people like Theodore Sedgwick and the son of one his best friends.
The case was a complex one and had some serious issues that had to be deliberated for example the ‘Evening Post’ posed the question whether it was the jurisdiction of the American Circuit Court to deal with Spanish criminal affairs but the weight of the first question was added by the reference that was made by the same paper which termed Spanish acts as a threat to the family unit and a despicable barbarous action.
As Bryant was very determined to see that the enslaved Africans were freed, using his technical expertise, he build a case against the Spaniards arguing that the Africans were taken to the Cuban island in contravention to the law and thus were neither to be returned to the hands of the executers of rebellious people or be doomed to be enslaved for the rest of their lives but the Spaniards were determined to have them returned to Cuba where they would be charged with murder of the cook and the captain.
Anti slavery like James Pennington and Lewis Tappan came to add their voices to that of Bryant and others who were openly opposed to slavery claiming that though slavery was allowed in Cuba, the importation of Africans to Cuba was illegal (National Portrait Gallery Home). Cinque’s courage to stage an attack against his enslavers was deemed to be a heroic deed by abolitionists who maintained that it was in order to kill the captors who had illegally held them captive as it was the only way through which they could have preserved their freedom.
In 1841, the federal government was charged by the then American president John Quincy Adams who went to visit the enslaved Africans of interfering with the court cases and obstructing justice by being partial in dealing with the issue of slavery and condemning Blacks who were fighting for their freedom.
As a result of his strong advocacy for the release of the captives, the Supreme Court judge ruled in their favor in March 1841 by ordering the remaining thirty five Africans, Joseph Cinque among them to be taken back to their countries and in 1842 they were returned (National Portrait Gallery Home). When Cinque returned home, he found his wife was killed and thus had to start his life from the scratch again perhaps this is one of the reason why he lost hope in the abolitionist campaign and ended up turning into a slave trader just like his captors.
The abolitionists using Joseph Clique’s case as an example, they embarked on an African mission and formed a Clique’s party which was to be used as a platform for fighting slavery but this did not materialize as they had anticipated as some so called independent African thinkers opposed their moves led by Cinque who is said to have deserted the party and turned to be a slave trader till his death (Niemi 25). In short it was not the wish of Joseph Cinque to be enslaved by the Spaniards but he just found himself captured and sold to the slave dealers for failing to clear somebody’s debt.
To him this was dream that he was not ready to wait for it become a reality and that was why he did all that he could to ensure that he returned back to his country even if it meant staging a rebellion. Luckily enough, he managed to do this and headed back home but his journey was not as successful as he thought it would but at long last he ended up returning home after the Supreme Court of USA ruled that the enslaved persons be deported back to their countries and that was how Cinque found himself back in Sierra Leone.
Works Cited: Dalzell, Fred. Cinque (Sengbe Pieh) Mende, captive, leader. Mystic Seaport Museum. 1997. Accessed at http://amistad. mysticseaport. org/discovery/people/bio. cinque. html Horton, Lois E. Slavery and the making of America. Oxford University Press US, 2004. National Portrait Gallery Home. The Amistad Case. Available at http://www. npg. si. edu/col/amistad/index. htm Niemi, Robert. History in the media: film and television. ABC-CLIO, 2006 Muller, Gilbert H. William Cullen Bryant: author of America. SUNY Press, 2008
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