Slave ship Amistad being recreated
March 8, 1998
Web posted at: 10:09 p.m. EST (0309 GMT)
MYSTIC, Connecticut (CNN) -- Shipbuilders began Sunday to create a $2.8 million replica of the historic slave ship Amistad for use as a floating classroom.
A ceremony was held as shipbuilders laid the vessel's keel, which is shipbuilding's version of a groundbreaking.
It was the first step in the construction of a 77-foot replica of the ship. A state bond of $2.5 million and private donations are funding the construction.
Construction is scheduled to conclude in two years.
The Amistad replica is being built at the Mystic Seaport, one of the nation's leading maritime museums with the largest collection of boats and maritime photography in the world. It was founded in 1929 and receives about 425,000 visitors a year.
The Amistad replica will be on display during its construction. When complete, the ship will tour the nation's waterways as a floating classroom, offering excursions to school groups and adults from domestic ports.
The original Amistad was a Cuban-chartered 80-foot cargo schooner. In January 1839, its passengers were 53 enslaved Africans who had been kidnapped from modern-day Sierra Leone.
During their journey, the Africans, led by a 25-year-old slave the Spaniards called "Cinque," revolted. They killed the captain and forced the ship to change course.
After wandering at sea for 63 days, the Amistad was towed by a U.S. ship to Connecticut, where the slaves were imprisoned. They were initially tried for murder, facing either the death penalty or permanent slavery.
The Africans' defense contended that importation of slaves was illegal under Spanish law. In February 1840, former president John Quincy Adams argued their case before the U.S. Supreme Court, which on March 9, 1841, declared the Africans free and ordered their repatriation.
March 9 is known as Amistad day and is being celebrated for the first time by the United Church of Christ.
The 1.5-million-member church is a sponsor of the project in part because Lewis and Arthur Tappan, defenders of the enslaved, were both members of the predecessor of the
modern-day United Church of Christ.
The people of Connecticut also played a role in the ship's drama. Abolitionists looked after the Africans' legal defense and physical well-being, and raised funds for their return voyage to Africa.
Steven Spielberg's movie about the events, "Amistad," opened in December 1997 and is nominated for several Academy Awards.