Sengbe Pieh (also known as Joseph Cinque) was born in Mani in present-day Sierra Leone in 1813/1814. He was a rice farmer and trader, and at the time of his capture he had a wife and three children.
In 1839 slave traders kidnapped Pieh while he was working in the rice fields. He was taken to Lomboko off of the Gallinas Coast. He, with countless others, were sent to Havana, Cuba to be sold into slavery. Pieh and 52 men, women, and children were purchased by two Spanish plantation owners and boarded onto the schooner La Amistad.
Three days into the voyage to Porto Principe, Cuba, Pieh freed himself and others from their shackles. They killed the captain, cook, and two other crew members disappeared. Having taken over the ship, Pieh ordered the schooner sail towards Africa. Rather than comply, the second-mate - who was steering the ship - secretly changed course at night, sailing west or north. After two months at sea the Amistad was seized by the U.S. brig Washington off the coast of Long Island, NY. Sengbe Pieh and the surviving African captives were arrested and charged with murder and piracy.
Pieh and the others told their story through a translator; providing accounts of their capture, sale into slavery, and their attempts to free themselves aboard the Amistad. The courts - first the District Court, then the Circuit Court, and finally the Supreme Court - ruled in their favor. They ruled that Pieh and the others had been illegally captured, and thus illegally sold into slavery.
In November 1841 Sengbe Pieh returned to Mendeland in present-day Sierra Leone with the other African captives. They were accompanied by missionaries charged with helping them readjust to life in Africa.
It is not believed that Pieh ever found his family, as reports say that they perished during an ongoing war. Little is known of what became of Sengbe Pieh after his return to Sierra Leone.