Saturday, June 23, 2007

Amistad ship retraces slave route

A replica of the 19th Century slave ship, Amistad, is beginning a 22,500km (14,000 mile) transatlantic voyage retracing the route of the slave trade.

The trip commemorates the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave Freedom Schooner Amistad (Copyright Amistad America)trade within the British Empire.

The Freedom Schooner Amistad will set sail from the US east coast and stop in Europe, Africa and the Caribbean.

In 1839, 53 slaves mutinied on board the Amistad. They were captured, but won freedom in a historic legal battle.

The story was depicted in the film Amistad directed by Steven Spielberg in 1997.

Slave trade 'triangle'

The replica of the Amistad, whose name in Spanish means "friendship", will set sail on its 16-month trip from New Haven, Connecticut, at 1800 GMT.

The ship will arrive in London in August to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the slave trade in Britain.

It will then sail to Lisbon, Madeira, Senegal and Sierra Leone, the West African home of the original slaves, before returning to the US in 2008 via the Caribbean.

The schooner's crew will be joined by 10 students from the US and UK, who will communicate with schools and museums around the world by e-mail and through web-casts.

The voyage retraces the slave trade "triangle", which saw European traders export manufactured goods to West Africa, where they would be exchanged for slaves from African merchants.

The slaves were then transported across the Atlantic and sold for huge profits in the Americas.

Traders used the money to buy raw materials such as sugar, cotton, coffee, metals and tobacco, which were shipped back and sold in Europe.

Landmark case

The chairman of Amistad America, the non-profit organisation in charge of the Atlantic Freedom Tour, said it was a "very exciting venture".

"We believe that the Amistad story is a landmark case in American history and deserves to be told and recognised," William Minter said.

 Route of the Freedom Schooner Amistad in 2007 and 2008

Capt William Pinkney, who will sail for part of the voyage, said the replica ship was a "touchstone to the past that rarely gets talked about".

On 1 July 1839, 53 African captives on board the original slave ship mutinied off the coast of Cuba, killed its captain and attempted to sail back to Africa.

They arrived instead at Long Island, New York, where the schooner was captured by a US warship. The mutineers were imprisoned in New Haven and charged with murder.

The Africans' cause was soon taken up by abolitionists and the case eventually went to the US Supreme Court in 1841.

The court upheld an earlier ruling, which the US government had appealed against, that the Africans were victims of kidnapping and had the right to escape their captors in any way they could.

In January 1842, 35 survivors arrived back in Sierra Leone.


BBC NEWS | Americas | Amistad ship retraces slave route