Lithograph, Joseph Cinquez (Cinque) (Sengbe Pieh), c. 1839
Sengbe Pieh, known as Joseph Cinquez (Cinque), a Mendi chief of Sierra Leone, led the Amistad mutineers. This lithograph, distributed by the New York Sun newspaper, misidentified Cinquez as Congolese but used his celebrity to promote abolition. It quotes his speech to his fellow mutineers after they had seized control of the Amistad.
Brothers, we have done that which we purposed, our hands are now clean, for we have Striven to regain the precious heritage we received from our fathers…I am resolved that it is better to die than be a white man’s slave… .
Art by Isaac or James Sheffield, lithography by Moses Yale Beach, Boston: Joseph A. Arnold
Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress
In an 1841 Supreme Court case that was a rallying cause for abolitionists, Massachusetts Representative (and former President) John Quincy Adams argued for the rights of West African captives from the Spanish slave ship Amistad. The Africans had mutinied and attempted to sail homeward, but were eventually imprisoned by American authorities. Abolitionists made their case a legal test pitting individual human rights against property claims. Adams argued that racial prejudice underlay the U.S. prosecution of the Africans, and the Supreme Court ruled for their freedom.