Joseph Cinqué Biography

Joseph Cinqué

(Sengbe Pieh)
slave leader
Born: 1811
Birthplace: Sierra Leone, Africa

Cinqué was a rice farmer in his native Sierra Leone when he was captured by Portuguese slavers and brought by ship to Havana, Cuba. This enslavement violated numerous treaties. Cinqué and 52 Africans, who had been sold to Spanish planters, were then boarded on the Spanish ship the Amistad, which was headed for a Caribbean plantation. Cinqué freed himself from his shackles and led a rebellion. The captives killed all but the ship's navigator and demanded that he sail back to Africa. Instead, the navigator duped the Africans and headed for North America. Two months later, the ship was captured by a U.S. Navy ship off Long Island Sound and the slaves were charged with murder and imprisoned in Conn. The murder charges were dismissed, but the slaves remained in prison as the planters, the Spanish government, and the captain of the U.S. ship all laid claim to the Africans.

President Martin Van Buren, hoping to win Southern votes, sought to have the slaves extradited to Cuba. Abolitionists who opposed extradition hired a defense team for the slaves. The lawyers argued in federal court that the slaves were kidnap victims rather than property. The court ruled in favor of the defense, saying that the Africans were held illegally as slaves. The decision was appealed, and former President John Quincy Adams defended the group before the Supreme Court in January 1841. The court upheld the earlier decision. Thirty-five of the former slaves secured passage home to Africa with the help of sympathetic missionary societies in 1842. The others died either in prison or on the journey back to their homeland.

Died: 1852

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