Story Of Sierra Leonean Man Who Led The Amistad Slave Revolt And Won His Freedom In A U.S. Court In 1841

Sengbe Pieh was an African slave on the Spanish slave ship La Amistad who staged a revolt. The ship was eventually seized by the US Revenue Cutter Service. Pieh and the other slaves who participated in the insurrection were later tried for the deaths of two ship officers. The United States v. The Amistad was the case’s renowned name.

Pieh was of the Mende ethnic nationality and was born in 1814 in modern-day Mani, Sierra Leone. His precise birthday is unclear. He had three children and was married. He made his living as a rice farmer.

Pieh was kidnapped and sold to a Spanish master called Pedro Blanco in 1839 by African slave traders. At the time, the international slave trade was illegal.

Onboard the Tecora, he was transferred to Havana, Cuba. He was sold again when he arrived, this time to José Ruiz and Pedro Montez.

Pieh was then sold on the Cuban coasts by Montez and Ruiz, who put him on the Amistad.

Pieh was renamed Joseph Cinqué at some point.

Cinqué led a revolt on June 30 that culminated in the deaths of the ship’s captain and cook. Two slaves perished, but two sailors escaped.

Montez and Ruiz had been kidnapped. Cinqué and his fellow slaves demanded that the ship be returned to Sierra Leone. Montez and Ruiz, on the other hand, told the navigator to head for the Americas.

The ship arrived on Long Island, New York, two months later. The USS Washington’s crew boarded the ship. The slaves were charged with mutiny and sent to New Haven, Connecticut, to stand trial after Ruiz and Montez gave their version of events.

Cinqué acted as the slave’s unofficial representative during the trial. Cinqué and the others were already slaves when they were sold in Cuba, according to Montez and Ruiz. The slaves’ testimonies were interpreted by Mende interpreters.

The slaves were given the benefit of the doubt. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court ruled in March 1841 that the group revolted after being illegally enslaved. The slaves were emancipated and might return to Africa if they so desired, according to the court. President Martin Van Buren objected to the decision, fearing that it would strain relations between the United States and Spain.

Cinqué and the rest of the party returned to Sierra Leone in 1842.

Cinqué fled the country due to civil strife and traded along the seashore.

The events of his life after then vary according to accounts.

Some assume that he went to Jamaica, while others claim he became a slave trader.

Author William A. Owens, as well as historians Howard Jones and Joseph Yannielli, believe Cinqué and the other slaves began engaging in the slave trade after returning to Sierra Leone owing to financial hardship.

Cinqué passed away in 1879.

The film Amistad, which depicted the slave revolt and trial, was released in 1997.


Sierra Leone’s 5000 leone banknote features Pieh’s image. He is also commemorated by a statue outside New Haven City Hall and a gilded sculpture outside the Old State House in Hartford, Connecticut.

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