by Howard Jones
Reissued to coincide with the upcoming major motion picture Amistad, Mutiny on the Amistad presents the first full-scale treatment of the only instance in history where African blacks, seized by slave dealers, won their freedom and returned home. Howard Jones describes how, in 1839, fifty-three of the captives led by Joseph Cinque revolted on the Spanish slave ship, the Amistad, in the Caribbean. Allowing only the captain and first mate to live in order to steer the ship back to Sierra Leone, the Africans were tricked and taken to New York.
The seizure of the ship by an American naval vessel near Montauk, Long Island, the arrest of the Africans in Connecticut, and the Spanish protest against the violation of their property rights created an international controversy. However, the kidnapping of Africans to be sold as slaves was outlawed several years before the Amistad incident, so prosecutors claimed the men were Cuban. Unable to understand or speak English, the Africans had no way to prove their true identities.
The Amistad affair united Lewis Tappan and other abolitionists who put the "law of nature" on trial in the United States by their refusal to accept a legal system that claimed to dispense justice while permitting artificial distinctions based on race or color. The mutiny resulted in a trial before the U.S. Supreme Court that pitted former President John Quincy Adams, who came out of retirement to defend the Africans, against the federal government. As a consultant to the film Amistad, Henry Louis Gates Jr. described the story as "[A] rare incident in American history that shows powerful black people forming alliances with powerful white people for a good cause." Howard Jones vividly recaptures this compelling drama--the most famous slavery case before Dred Scott--that climaxed in the court's landmark ruling to free the captives and allow them to return to Africa.
Paperback: 271 pages