The Amistad Incident Nick Books ed 301-02 Unit/Grade Level/Lesson

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The Amistad Incident

  • Nick Books
  • ED 301-02

Unit/Grade Level/Lesson

  • This unit covers some events that help explain the pre-Civil War mentality
  • Eighth Grade
  • Race/Ethnicity


  • The class, given proper instruction, will answer several questions in regard to the lesson presented achieving at least 60% accuracy.

Materials Needed

  • Computer with Power Point and proper display
  • Video tape or DVD of Amistad
  • VCR/DVD to play Amistad and television
  • This is what Cinque did and how the story begins……

The Incident:

  • In January 1839, Cinque, a Mende, is seized and sold into slavery in the interior of West Africa.
  • After a 3 month middle passage across the Atlantic, the Africans are brought to the barracoons in Havanna and sold to Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, Spanish planters from Puerto Principe. They purchased a total of 49 adult males and 4 children (3 are girls).


  • June 8: Ruiz and Montez load the Africans onto the Amistad.
  • July 1: On their third night out, Cinque and his friend Grabiau free and arm themselves and others.
  • July 2: Africans Revolt
  • Over the next 2 months the Amistad sails east by day, north by night, through the Bahamas and up the North American coastline, into U.S. waters.

More Timeline

  • Aug. 26th: U.S.S Washington seizes Amistad and escorts it to New London. US Federal District Judge Andrew T. Judson is notified.
  • Judson sends the matter to the U.S. Circuit court in Hartford, Connecticut. Africans are taken to jail in New Haven.
  • Sept. 6: Spanish minister in Washington demand that the Africans be returned to Cuba to stand trial for mutiny and murder.

Timeline 3

  • Sept. 9: With the help of abolitionist Lewis Tappan, Yale professor Josiah Gibbs finds Mende translators on the docks of New York-James Covey and Charles Pratt- and takes them to New Haven to interview the Africans. Money is also being raised for the Africans legal defense fund.
  • The Trials



  • US Circuit Court Judge Thompson expresses doubt to the legality of the African’s enslavement, but decides to keep Africans in custody.
  • Federal District Court: (Judge Judson) Attorney Roger Baldwin tries to get the case dismissed on the grounds that the “salvage” or slaves should have been taken to New York and introduces evidence that the Africans were not legally enslaved.



  • Court awards salvage to the Spaniards. It also rules that theAfricans were illegally enslaved. Murder and piracy issues were left to Spanish rule, but since Africans were taken illegally the issue was null and void.
  • Van Buren orders an immediate appeal to the Circuit Court.
  • Circuit Court affirms District Court decision and sends issue to the Supreme Court.

John Quincy Adams and Roger Baldwin argue Africans’ case in the Supreme Court.

Supreme Court rules in favor of the Africans and orders them to be returned home to Africa.

  • “…It is the ultimate right of all human beings in extreme cases to resist oppression, and to apply force against ruinous injustice.” Senior Justice Joseph Story
  • The opinion in this case narrowly asserted the right for the Africans to resist “unlawful” slavery

The Return Home

  • Cinque and other Africans returned home with the help of some new friends from the Church of Christ and set up a missionary in Sierra Leone.
  • Homework:
  • Divide into groups of four and answer the following questions. Delegate a spokesperson for the group and submit answers at the end of class.

Questions to Ponder

  • If the Amistad had been captured in any other state in the U.S., do you think the outcome might have been any different? What if it had been captured in a southern state?
  • Give two reason why President Van Buren interfered with the outcome of this case.
  • List two positive residual effects of this case.
  • Extra Credit
  • Prepare a 2 page essay discussing your thoughts on the significance of this Supreme Court case in regards to it being a precursor to the Civil War or the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. (worth 2% points being added at the end of the nine weeks.)

Web Sites

  • Link pages:
  • Argument of John Quincy Adams:
  • Amistad:
  • Amistad Web site:
  • Amistad Research Center


  • Lesson plan for ex-slave narratives:
  • The Trial:
  • Slavery in South Carolina:

Activities Continued

  • Slave anthologies:
  • Connecticut Historical Society

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