Biography of African Mutineer Cinque Part 1

About the African Mutineer leader Cinque, his biography and the history of his slave mutiny.

CINQUE (1813?-1880). African mutineer.

Even after his death in 1974 Donald David DeFreeze, the Symbionese Liberation Army leader who adopted the name General Field Marshal Cinque, remains a mysterious figure unknown really to his own family. More is known about the man from whom the terrorist group's leader took his name, a slave who led a mutiny aboard a slave ship and attempted to sail the vessel back to Africa, becoming a cause celebre in the process.

The 1st Cinque commanded even more newspaper headlines than DeFreeze did 135 years later. Born the son of a minor chief in what is now the republic of Sierra Leone on the west coast of Africa, he was more properly called Sing-Gbe in his tribal Mendi language. Cinque he was to be called by the press, though, and Cinque he remains to history.

In the spring of 1839 Cinque was seized by black slave traders while walking in the bush, and eventually he was sold to a Portuguese dealer for shipment to Cuba. On this 1st voyage he had little chance to escape, the slaves being chained leg to leg in the cramped slave decks of the Tecora. It took all his strength and courage to survive the 3-month voyage what with men, women, and children dying in their chains all around him, his captors force-feeding them like geese for the market, whipping them into submission, and rubbing vinegar and gunpowder in their wounds to prevent infection.

On landing in Havana, Cinque and 52 others were purchased by 2 Cubans named Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez for what averaged out at less than $10 apiece. Packed aboard the schooner Amistad, unshackled now, the slaves were to be shipped to another Cuban port, farther east. But the Amistad never reached her destination, for Cinque persuaded his fellow captives to mutiny. They must have been much impressed by their leader, who even in the patronizing words of a contemporary newspaper reporter seems a rather heroic figure. "He is about 5'8" in height, 25 or 26 years of age, of erect figure, well built and very active," the reporter wrote later. "He is said to be a match for any 2 men aboard the schooner. His countenance, for a native African, is unusually intelligent, evincing uncommon decision and coolness, with a composure characteristic of true courage.... He expects to be executed, but nevertheless manifests a sang-froid worthy of a stoic under similar circumstances."

Cinque's voice certainly inspired his band, too, for in the words of abolitionist Lewis Tappan, he was "a powerful natural orator, and one born to sway the minds of his fellowmen." In any event, on the 4th night out, the other slaves followed Cinque on deck, where all the crew but the helmsman were sleeping.

Seizing the sailors' 2'-long cane knives, the mutineers quickly took charge, Cinque himself killing the captain and the cruel ship's cook. No one else was harmed, and the crew was put over the side in boats, except for Montez and Ruiz. They were kept to sail the schooner back to Africa.

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