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1619

First Africans brought to Virginia.

1640-
1680

Major increase of African slave labor in the British Caribbean for sugar production.

1780

Massachusetts Constitution adopted with freedom clause interpreted as prohibiting slavery.

1789

U.S. Constitution ratified with clause equating slaves to 3/5ths of a white citizen and provision that international slave trade would end within 20 years.

1807

Great Britain abolishes slave trade.

1819

U.S. law equates slave trading with piracy, punishable by death.

1820

The Missouri Compromise: Missouri is admitted as a slave state, balanced by the admission of Maine as a free state, also includes an agreement to bar slavery from northern federal territories. President James Monroe orders first U.S. Navy patrol against slave ships on West African coast.

1836

In response to petitions calling on Congress to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia, the House of Representatives implements the “gag rule,” automatically tabling abolitionist petitions. The policy is repeatedly renewed over the coming years.

1839

January: Sengbe Pieh (Cinque), a Mende, is seized in West Africa and sold into slavery.

 

Early April: The Portuguese slaving brig Tecora loads slaves off Lomboko, at the mouth of the Gallinas River, on the West African coast below the British Colony of Sierra Leone.

 

Late June: The Africans are brought to Havana, Cuba. Jose Ruiz, a Spanish planter from Puerto Principe, buys 49 adult males, paying $450 for each. Pedro Montes, another planter from the same region, buys four children, three of them girls.

 

June 22-26: Montes and Ruiz obtain passports to transport “ladinos” (blacks born in the New World) to Puerto Principe, Cuba.

 

June 28: Ruiz and Montes walk their 53 slaves through Havana, board the Amistad at 8:00pm and near midnight get underway.

 

July 1: Cinque and Grabeau free and arm themselves and then the others.

  July 2: 4:00am: REVOLT.
  Over the next two months the Amistad sails east by day, north by night, through the Bahamas and up the North American coast, into United States waters.
 

Late August: As it passes New York, the “black schooner” has several encounters with pilot boats, stirring up rumors of pirates.

 

August 25: The Amistad anchors off Long Island and lands a shore party to obtain provisions. Late in the afternoon, Henry Green and company encounter the Africans’ shore party.

 

August 26: Early morning, Lt. Richard W. Meade, commanding the surveying brig USS Washington, seizes the schooner and escorts it to New London. They claim a salvage award for their actions.

  August 27: Amistad reaches New London. U.S. Marshal Norris Willcox notifies U.S. Federal District Judge Andrew T. Judson. At an inquiry aboard the Washington, Ruiz and Montes demand as property the 39 surviving adult African males, the four children and the Creole cook Antonio. Judge Andrew T. Judson hears testimony aboard the Washington and decides to put the matter to a grand jury, at U.S. Circuit Court in Hartford in September. The Africans are taken to the New Haven jail.
  September 4: New York abolitionists announce the formation of the “Amistad Committee” to raise funds for legal counsel and to support the Africans while jailed. Lewis Tappan, Rev. Joshua Leavitt and Rev. Simeon Jocelyn take the lead.
  September 6: The Spanish minister in Washington formally demands that the Africans be returned to Cuba to stand trial for mutiny and murder.
  September 9: Yale professor Josiah Gibbs finds Mende speakers on the docks of New York--James Covey and Charles Pratt--and takes them to New Haven to interview the Africans. New York abolitionists Lewis Tappan, Joshua Leavitt and Simeon Jocelyn form the Amistad Committee to raise funds for the defense of the Amistad captives.
  September 19: The first trial begins in the U.S. Circuit Court at Hartford, Judge Thompson presiding.
  September 23: Though he expresses doubt as to the legality of the Africans’ enslavement, Judge Thompson denies their motion for writ of habeas corpus, keeping them in custody in the New Haven jail.
  October 17: Tappan has several of the Africans bring civil suit against Ruiz and Montes for assault and battery and false imprisonment. The Spaniards are arrested in New York City.
  October 22: Hearings begin in the New York Court of Common Pleas, Judge Inglis presiding. Within a week, the court frees Montes, and reduces Ruiz’s bail. Montes flees to Cuba. Ruiz eventually makes bail and flees as well.
  November 19: The second trial opens at the federal district court in Hartford, Judge Judson presiding. Abolitionists try to get the case dismissed on grounds the “salvage” should have been taken to New York. They then introduce evidence demonstrating that the Africans were not legally enslaved. The court postpones the hearing until January and moves it to New Haven.
1840 January 2: Secretary of State John Forsyth orders the Navy to prepare to transport the Africans to Cuba as soon as the district court ruling is reached, before an appeal can be lodged. The Navy dispatches the USS Grampus to wait in New Haven harbor.
  January 7: District court proceedings resume in New Haven. U.S. District Attorney for Connecticut William S. Holabird announces that the Spanish government has merged the claims of Ruiz and Montes with those of the U.S. Various witnesses testify that the blacks are Africans, Mendes, bozales (not native to the country).
  January 8 : Cinque testifies, describing his capture, enslavement, middle passage, sale in Havana, revolt and encounter with Green. Grabeau and Fuliwa also testify.
  January 13: Judge Judson affirms the jurisdiction of the district court, and dismisses Green’s salvage claim. The court awards salvage to Gedney and the two Spaniards. The court also rules that the Africans were not legally enslaved. On the question of murder and piracy, the court holds that only a Spanish court can rule, but since Spanish law would have effect only if the Africans were bozales--and they were not-- there was no point in returning them to Cuba. The court places the captives in the charge of the U.S. President, to be returned to Africa. President Van Buren orders the U.S. District Attorney to appeal the District Court ruling to the U.S. Circuit Court in April. The Spaniards also appeal.
  April 14: On a motion from John Calhoun, the U.S. Senate passes a resolution declaring that a ship on the high seas during peacetime engaged in a legal voyage falls under the sole jurisdiction of that vessel’s country.
  April 29: Trial opens at the Circuit Court at New Haven, Judge Thompson presiding. Thompson eventually affirms the decision of the District Court, setting the stage for a show down at the U.S. Supreme Court.
  December 10: In the U.S. House of Representatives, John Quincy Adams accuses the Van Buren administration of falsifying documents in the case. A committee is appointed to investigate the affair.
1841 January 4: The House of Representatives adopts Adams’ committee report, but does not censure the administration.
  February 22: The U.S. Supreme Court begins hearing the Amistad case.
  February 23: Baldwin concludes his arguments.
  February 24: Adams begins presenting his argument.
  March 9: Justice Story delivers the decision of the Court, affirming the Africans’ freedom.
  November 19: John Quincy Adams receives a Bible sent to him by Cinque and the other Mendis involved in the Amistad Case. The Bible is now among the over 14,000 volumes in the Stone Library at Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts.
  November 27: Thirty five survivors depart New York for Africa aboard the barque Gentleman, accompanied by two black Americans, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Wilson, and three whites, Rev. and Mrs. William Raymond and Rev. James Steele, to minister the “Mendi Mission.”
1842 January: The Africans reach Sierra Leone.
1850 The Compromise of 1850 admits California as free state, eliminates slave trade in the District of Columbia, establishes Utah and New Mexico without restrictions on slavery, and requires return of fugitive slaves.
1854 The Kansas-Nebraska Act repeals the Missouri Compromise, allowing popular sovereignty to determine slave-or free-state status of territories seeking statehood, which increases sectional divisions within the U.S. and breaks down the traditional two-party system, giving rise to the Republican Party.
1857 The Dred Scott decision by the Supreme Court denies any possibility of citizenship for African Americans, imperils fugitive slaves and sets back the cause of abolition.
1859 John Brown’s unsuccessful Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, raid to incite slave rebellion heightens tension over slavery.
1860 December 20: South Carolina secedes from the Union after Abraham Lincoln’s election as president, followed by 10 other states through May 1861.
1861 February: The seceding states establish the government of the Confederate States of America and create a constitution endorsing slavery but prohibiting the international slave trade.
  April: When Confederate forces fire on U.S. troops at Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, President Lincoln calls for troops to put down the “insurrection” in the South, beginning the Civil War.
1862 September 22: President Lincoln issues the Emancipation Proclamation, granting freedom to slaves in areas of the South in active rebellion on January 1, 1863.
1865 Slavery abolished in the U.S. by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
1866 14th Amendment to the Constitution defines a citizen as anyone born in the U.S. (except American Indians) or naturalized, thereby extending all rights of citizenship to African Americans. The American Missionary Association (formerly the Amistad Committee) founds Fisk University, among other historically black colleges.

 

Above timeline excerpted from John Quincy Adams & The Amistad Event, produced by Adams National Historical Park, Quincy, Massachusetts, National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.


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