Wednesday, October 30, 2013
Tall ship Amistad in trouble
Tall ship replica has funding woes
Connecticut legislators are demanding a full accounting of the millions of state tax dollars that have been invested in the tall ship Amistad and have called for the state to stop funding the vessel until the group in charge of the ship explains how the money is being spent.
State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, made the demand for a full accounting and state Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said Thursday that Amistad America should answer questions about how it has spent the money allocated to it and outline how it plans to become financially stable, according to The Day in New London.
The Day recently reported that the ship, which was built with state funds to tell the story of captive Africans who escaped slavery and were declared free by the U.S. Supreme Court, is being used in Maine to teach sailing and that its parent organization has lost its tax-exempt status.
Maynard commended Urban for pressing the state Department of Economic and Community Development to detail how Amistad America has spent the $8 million in state taxpayer money it has received for the construction, maintenance, programming and operation of the vessel.
Amistad America lost its tax-exempt status after failing to file tax returns for three years. It no longer is based in New Haven, it has no office or website and its board is inactive.
And yet it was such an inspiring story.
In January 1839, 53 African natives were kidnapped from eastern Africa and sold into the Spanish slave trade. They were then placed aboard a Spanish slave ship bound for Havana, Cuba.
Once in Havana, the Africans were classified as native Cuban slaves and purchased at auction by two Spaniards, Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro Montez. The two planned to move the slaves to another part of Cuba. The slaves were shackled and loaded aboard the cargo schooner Amistad (Spanish for "friendship") for the brief coastal voyage. However, three days into the journey, a 25-year-old slave named Sengbe Pieh (or "Cinque" to his Spanish captors) broke out of his shackles and released the other Africans. The slaves then revolted, killing most of the crew of the Amistad, including her cook and captain. The Africans then forced Montez and Ruiz to return the ship to Africa. During the day, the ship sailed due east, using the sun to navigate. However, at night Montez and Ruiz would change course, attempting to return to Cuba. The zigzag journey continued for 63 days. The ship finally grounded near Montauk Point, Long Island, in New York State. The United States federal government seized the ship and its African occupants -- who under U.S. law were "property" and therefore cargo of the ship. On August 29, 1839, the Amistad was towed into New London, Connecticut.
The government charged the slaves with piracy and murder, and classified them as salvage property. The 53 Africans were sent to prison, pending hearing of their case before the U.S. Circuit Court in Hartford, Connecticut.