photo of The Real Sengbe Pieh aka Cinque #AmistadRebellion On July 2, 1839, one of the Africans, Mende Warrior Sengbe Pieh aka Cinqué, freed himself and the other captives using a file that had been found and kept by a woman who, like them, had been on the Tecora (the ship that had transported them illegally as slaves from Africa to Cuba). The Mende Africans killed the ship’s cook, Celestino, who had told them that they were to be killed and eaten by their captors. The slaves also killed Captain Ferrer; the struggle resulted as well in the deaths of two Africans. Two sailors escaped in a lifeboat. The Africans spared the lives of the two masters who could navigate the ship, José Ruiz and Pedro Montez, upon the condition that they would return the ship to Africa. They also spared the captain’s personal slave, Antonio, a creole, and used him as an interpreter with Ruiz and Montez.
The crew deceived the Africans and steered La Amistad north along the coast of the United States, where the ship was sighted repeatedly. They dropped anchor half a mile off eastern Long Island, New York, on August 26, 1839, at Culloden Point. Some of the Africans went ashore to procure water and provisions from the hamlet of Montauk. The vessel was discovered by the United States revenue cutter USS Washington. Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney, commanding the cutter, saw some of the Africans on shore and, assisted by his officers and crew, took custody of La Amistad and the Africans. Taking them to the port of New London, Connecticut, he presented officials with a written claim for his property rights under admiralty law for salvage of the vessel, the cargo, and the Africans. Gedney allegedly chose to land in Connecticut because slavery was still technically legal there, unlike in New York. He hoped to profit from sale of the Africans.Gedney transferred the captured Africans into the custody of the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, at which time legal proceedings began.