On 28 June 1839, the Spanish slave schooner La Amistad set sail from Havana to make a routine delivery of human cargo. After four days at sea, on a moonless night, the captive Africans that comprised that cargo escaped from the hold, killed the captain, and seized control of the ship. They attempted to sail to a safe port, but were captured by the US navy and thrown into a Connecticut jail. Their legal battle for freedom eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where former president John Quincy Adams took up their cause. In a landmark ruling, they were freed and eventually returned to Africa. The rebellion became one of the best-known events in the history of American slavery, celebrated as a triumph of the US legal system in books and films, most famously Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. These narratives reflect the elite perspective of the judges, politicians, and abolitionists involved. In this powerful and highly original account, Marcus Rediker reclaims the rebellion for its instigators: the African rebels who risked death to stake a claim for freedom.
Using newly discovered evidence, Rediker reaches back to Africa to find the rebels’ roots, narrates their cataclysmic transatlantic journey, and unfolds a prison story of great drama and emotive power. Featuring vividly drawn portraits of the Africans, their captors, and their abolitionist allies, The Amistad Rebellion shows how the rebels captured the popular imagination and helped to inspire and build a movement that was part of a grand global struggle for emancipation. The actions of that distant July night and inthe days and months that followed were pivotal events in American and Atlantic history, but not for the reasons we have always thought.
The successful Amistad rebellion changed the very nature of the struggle against slavery. As a handful of Africans steered a course to freedom, they opened a way for millions to follow. This stunning book honours their achievement.