Monday, October 27, 2008

World Famous Freedom Schooner Amistad Vists Kent County

Washington College Events Planned

Chestertown, MD — Washington College is pleased to announce several special events in conjunction with Freedom Schooner Amistad's presence in the Chestertown harbor from Thursday, October 30 to Sunday, November 2. The college's C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience and Center for Environment & Society are partnering with Sultana Projects, Inc. to bring this recreation of the Spanish ship La Amistad, which made history as the site of a famous slave revolt in 1839, to Kent County as part of Sultana's annual Downrigging Weekend, an end-of-season festival of tall ships.

A public open house onboard the Freedom Schooner Amistad will be held at the Cannon Street Pier on Sunday, November 2, from 2 to 5:30 p.m. Members of the Amistad crew will be on hand to conduct tours of the ship and share her remarkable story.

The open house is one of several events by which Washington College will celebrate theAmistad visit; a college sail will take students out onto the Chester River aboard the craft, and a special screening of Steven Spielberg's 1997 film "Amistad" will be presented at Litrenta Lecture Hall on Tuesday, October 28, at 7:30 p.m. Jill Ogline, Associate Director of the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience, will provide introductory comments. Admission to the movie is free and open to the public.

Washington College's co-sponsorship of the Amistad visit was made possible by a grant from the Van Dyke Family Foundation.

The two-masted schooner, whose home port is New Haven, Connecticut, is a full-scale recreation of La Amistad, a swift Spanish vessel that dodged international law to smuggle illegally imported Africans from one Cuban plantation to another. But on the night of July 2, 1839, her African captives rose up in revolt.

Successfully seizing control of the vessel, they ordered the crew to sail back to Africa, but 63 days at sea brought them instead to the coast of Long Island, where they were thrown into a Connecticut jail on charges of murder and piracy.

For two years, the captives languished in jail as their case wound its way through the court system of a slave-holding nation. Anti-slavery activists, black and white alike, flocked to their defense, and as their story spread, they become heroes to American blacks.

Against the U.S. government's assertion that the Amistad rebels were outlaws and murderers, the captives, with former President John Quincy Adams himself as their champion, insisted that they had only exercised the natural right of self-defense against individuals trying to take away their freedom.

Acquitted on a technicality—since the ship was acting in violation of international law, the Supreme Court considered the captives illegally enslaved and thus justified in their efforts to liberate themselves—the rebels returned home to Sierra Leone in 1841. Though only 35 survived to see their homeland again, those who did so had successfully reversed the infamous Middle Passage, returning to Africa, free.

Amistad's spars and canvas and wooden hull will look right at home on the Chester River during her sojourn in the community: Each year, Downrigging Weekend returns the Chestertown waterfront to its 18th century glory, with tall-masted schooners clustered around the docks and streams of people bustling around the wharves. For a full schedule of Downrigging Weekend activities, please visit For more on the Freedom SchoonerAmistad, visit

For more information on Washington College's Amistad events, contact the Center for Environment & Society or the C.V. Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience at 410/810-7161.

October 27, 2008

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