Biography of African Mutineer Cinque Part 2

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

CINQUE (1813?-1880). African mutineer.

Wearing a snuff box attached to a string tied around his neck as insignia of his rank, Captain Cinque assumed command of the ship. His crew was decked out in whatever finery could be found aboard. Using sign language, he ordered Montez and Ruiz to sail southeast for Sierra Leone, spelling each other at the wheel. But his former masters tricked him, edging the ship a bit north or west every night. After about 50 days, the Amistad wound up in New York waters off Montauk Point. Cinque and his men landed, purchasing supplies with gold they'd found aboard, a slave who had learned a few words of English in Africa doing the bartering, but soon an American coastal survey brig sighted the Amistad, her "bottoms and sides.... covered with barnacles and sea-grass, while her rigging and sails presented an appearance of the Flying Dutchman, after her fabled cruise." When the Americans boarded, Cinque dove overboard, evading his pursuers for almost an hour before they caught him. The Amistad was then turned over to the U.S. marshal in New London, where Cinque and his men were charged with murder and piracy.

There followed one of the most sensational trials of the century, a trial that many historians believe was a cause of the Civil War. A committee of abolitionists defended the slave mutineers and their case finally reached the Supreme Court in February, 1841, ex-President John Quincy Adams arguing their case eloquently. The court ruled that since Cinque and his men were not Spanish slaves or subjects they must "be declared free, and be dismissed from the custody of the Court, and go without delay."

Afterward, Cinque and the mutineers toured the North to raise money for their return trip. The tour was a great success critically and financially. Wrote a New York Sun reporter of Cinque: "His eye can exhibit every vanity of thought, from the cool contempt of a haughty chieftain to the high resolve which would be sustained through martyrdom. . . . Many white men might take a lesson in dignity and forbearance from the African chieftain." More than enough money was raised to enable the band of blacks to charter the brig Gentlemen and sail for Sierra Leone on December 2, 1841.

Cinque later became an interpreter at a Christian mission in Sierra Leone. But he never really regretted his action aboard the Amistad. One time he was asked if he had it to do all over, wouldn't he pray for the captain and cook of the ship instead of killing them. "Yes," Cinque replied, "I would pray for 'em--and kill 'em, too." He died in 1880, when about 67 years old.

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