Steven Spielberg popularized the story of the Spanish slave ship Amistad
in his acclaimed 1998 film
starring Morgan Freeman
, Anthony Hopkins
, and Matthew McConaughey
. On July 2, 1839, 53 African slaves on board the Amistad
revolted against their captors, killing all but the ship's navigator, who sailed them to Long Island, N.Y., instead of their intended destination, Africa. Joseph Cinqué was the group's leader.
The slaves aboard the Amistad
became unwitting symbols for the antislavery movement in pre-Civil War
United States. After several trials in which local and federal courts argued that the slaves were taken as kidnap victims rather than merchandise, the slaves were acquitted. The former slaves aboard the Spanish vessel Amistad
secured passage home to Africa with the help of sympathetic missionary societies in 1842.