39. Amistad for All
On June 28, 1839, the Spanish ship La Amistad left Havana, Cuba, with 53 Africans who had been kidnapped from their homeland. The Africans revolted, and the ship eventually ended up in Long Island Sound. Jailed in New Haven, the Africans endured a two-year trial to determine their fate. They won their freedom in 1841. Today, the Amistad story - interpreted by Steven Spielberg in his 1997 movie - rings throughout Connecticut. Art, exhibitions - even a recreation of the ship - inspire thousands of visitors annually. Many of the stops mentioned below are part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail (www.ctfreedomtrail.com), a comprehensive list of sites on the Underground Railroad, Amistad locales, and key gravesites, monuments, and homes.
Spring, Fall, Winter
New Haven Museum and Historical Society
Begin in New Haven, where the U.S. Navy took custody of La Amistad. Visit the New Haven Museum and Historical Society, home to the world’s largest collection of Amistad artwork. The pieces include Nathaniel Jocelyn's Portrait of Joseph Cinque.
The Amistad Memorial is on Church Street. Sculpted by Ed Hamilton in 1992, the 14-foot bronze relief stands on the former site of the New Haven Jail, where the kidnapped Africans awaited trial.
New Haven's Long Wharf
If it’s in port (consult amistadamerica.net for a schedule), visit the Freedom Schooner Amistad at New Haven’s Long Wharf. This recreation of the original ship was meticulously crafted at Mystic Seaport from purpleheart (a tropical hardwood), Douglas fir, live oak, and insect-resistant iroko from Sierra Leone. The 136-ton, 129-foot-long schooner is a floating classroom, where visitors can can learn more about the Amistad story and the transatlantic slave trade.
Drive to Mystic Seaport, where the Freedom Schooner Amistad was constructed. Spielberg shot scenes for his movie here, and used the “blubber room” of the Mystic Seaport whale ship, Charles W. Morgan to depict the hold of La Amistad.
Stay overnight in the Mystic area.
Old State House
The following day, drive to Hartford. Visit the Old State House, a 1796 National Historic Landmark where the first Amistad trial was held.
Visit the Wadsworth Atheneum, which houses the Amistad Foundation African-American Collection. Enjoy lunch at the Museum Café.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center
En route to Farmington, visit Hartford’s Harriet Beecher Stowe Center. Stowe wrote the antislavery novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
Drive to Farmington, where the Amistad Africans lived while funds were being raised for their return home. First Church of Christ (where the Africans worshiped) and Riverside Cemetery, resting place of an Amistad African, Foone, who drowned in the Farmington Canal basin, are two important spots.
While in Farmington, visit a wonderful independent bookstore, the Millrace Bookshop in the Gristmill. See if Ernest R. Shaw’s book, Amistad Sites & The Underground Railroad ($9) is on the shelves.