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9-12 > World History
Grade level: 9-12 Subject: World History Duration: Two class periods
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Slave Ship

Students will understand the following:
1. TheAmistadcase involved Spaniards transporting kidnapped Africans to slave owners.
2. The Supreme Court found in favor of the Africans.

For this lesson, you will need:

1. Make sure your students know the basic facts of theAmistadslave ship case.
  1. When the commander of a U.S. frigate boarded a strange black schooner off the coast of Montauk, New York, on August 26, 1839, he was told by two Spanish men, Montez and Ruiz, who claimed to be the ship’s owners that the Africans on board were their slaves and had murdered the captain and taken over the vessel.
  2. The commander doubted the Spaniards’ claim about the Africans being slaves because the Africans knew no English or European language. The commander reasoned that the men identified as slaves must have only recently left Africa.
  3. On August 29, 1839, Montez and Ruiz formally accused the Africans of murder and piracy. They also sued to recover the ship.
  4. The Spaniards were freed; the Africans were jailed.
  5. Eventually, through the intervention of a Yale professor, the jailed Africans were able to tell their story in their native tongue and to be understood by Americans. The story was that they had been stolen from their home near Sierra Leone, transported to Havana, sold at auction, and put aboard theAmistadto sail for another part of Cuba. Then the Africans learned from the cook that the Spaniards intended to eat them. Led by Sengbe (Cinquez in Spanish), who had escaped from his chains and freed his comrades, the Africans killed the captain and the cook and frightened off two crew members, leaving only Montez and Ruiz, who were ordered to sale the ship back to Africa.
  6. Montez and Ruiz fooled the Africans and arrived on the U.S. shore.
2. Once students understand the basic facts of theAmistadcase, challenge them to test their powers of close reading by asking them to summarize the decision handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1841 and reprinted below. The Supreme Court had been appealed to after both a district court in Hartford, Connecticut, and a higher court found that the Africans aboard theAmistadwere freeborn and deserved to be allowed to return to Africa rather than be treated as merchandise belonging to Ruiz and Montez. Here are excerpts from the opinion of the Supreme Court, which led to the return of the Africans to their home. Make these excerpts available to your students, and ask them, working in small groups, to prepare summaries. On the voyage, and before the arrival of the vessel at her port of destination, the negroes rose, killed the master, and took possession of her. . . . The vessel, with the negroes and other persons [Ruiz, Montez, and a slave previously owned by Ruiz] on board, was brought by Lieutenant Gedney into the district of Connecticut, and there libelled for salvage in the district court of the United States. . . . On the 19th of September, the attorney of the United States for the district of Connecticut filed an information or libel, setting forth, that the Spanish minister had officially presented to the proper department of the government of the United States, a claim for the restoration of the vessel, cargo, and slaves, as the property of Spanish subjects, which had arrived within the jurisdictional limits of the United States, and were taken possession of by the said public armed brig of the United States, under such circumstances as made it the duty of the United States to cause the same to be restored to the true proprietors, pursuant to the treaty between the United States and Spain; . . . But if it should appear, that the negroes were persons transported from Africa, in violation of the laws of the United States, and brought within the United States, contrary to the same laws; he then prayed the court to make such order for their removal to the coast of Africa, pursuant to the laws of the United States, as it should deem fit. . . .
On the 7th of January 1840, the negroes, Cinque and others . . . by their counsel, filed an answer, denying that they were slaves, or the property of Ruiz and Montez. . . . They specially set forth and insisted in this answer, that Ruiz and Montez . . . made a pretended purchase of them; that afterwards, on or about the 28th of June 1839, Ruiz and Montez, confederating with [the master of theAmistad], caused them, without law or right, to be placed on board of theAmistad, to be transported to some place unknown to them, and there to be enslaved for life; that, on the voyage, they rose on the master, and took possession of the vessel, intending to return therewith to their native country. . . .
No question has been here made, as to the proprietary interests in the vessel and cargo. It is admitted, that they belong to Spanish subjects, and that they ought to be restored. The only point on this head is, whether the restitution ought to be upon the payment of salvage, or not? The main controversy is, whether these negroes are the property of Ruiz and Montez, and ought to be delivered up; and to this, accordingly, we shall first direct our attention.
. . . The ninth article [of the treaty between Spain and the United States] provides, “that all ships and merchandize, of what nature soever, which shall be rescued out of the hands of any pirates or robbers, on the high seas, shall be brought into some port of either state, and shall be delivered to the custody of the officers of that port, in order to be taken care of and restored, entire, to the true proprietor, as soon as due and sufficient proof shall be made concerning the property thereof.” This is the article on which the main reliance is placed on behalf of the United States, for the restitution of these negroes. To bring the case within the article, it is essential to establish: 1st, That these negroes, under all the circumstances, fall within the description of merchandize, in the sense of the treaty. 2d, That there has been a rescue of them on the high seas, out of the hands of the pirates and robbers; which, in the present case, can only be, by showing that they themselves are pirates and robbers: and 3d, That Ruiz and Montez, the asserted proprietors, are the true proprietors, and have established their title by competent proof.
. . . It is plain, beyond controversy, if we examine the evidence, that these negroes never were the lawful slaves of Ruiz or Montez, or of any other Spanish subjects. They are natives of Africa, and were kidnapped there, and were unlawfully transported to Cuba, in violation of the laws and treaties of Spain, and the most solemn edicts and declarations of that government. By those laws and treaties, and edicts, the African slave-trade is utterly abolished; the dealing in that trade is deemed a heinous crime; and the negroes thereby introduced into the dominions of Spain, are declared to be free. . . . The supposed proprietary interest of Ruiz and Montez is completely displaced. . . .
If then, these negroes are not slaves, but are kidnapped Africans, who, by the laws of Spain itself, are entitled to their freedom, and were kidnapped and illegally carried to Cuba, and illegally detained and restrained on board the Amistad; there is no pretence to say, that they are pirates or robbers. We may lament the dreadful acts by which they asserted their liberty, and took possession of the Amistad, and endeavored to regain their native country; but they cannot be deemed pirates or robbers. . . .
It is also a most important consideration, in the present case, which ought not to be lost sight of, that, supposing these African negroes not to be slaves, but kidnapped, and free negroes, the treaty with Spain cannot be obligatory upon them; and the United States are bound to respect their rights as much as those of Spanish subjects. . . . The treaty with Spain never could have intended to take away the equal rights of all foreigners, who should contest their claims before any of our courts, to equal justice; or to deprive such foreigners of the protection given them by other treaties, or by the general law of nations. Upon the merits of the case, then, there does not seem to us to be any ground for doubt, that these negroes ought to be deemed free; and that the Spanish treaty interposes no obstacle to the just assertion of their rights.
3. You may want to remind or instruct students of what a summary, technically, calls for:
  • Typically, a summary of a chapter should take about a page, a summary of a page should take about a paragraph, and a summary of a paragraph should take about a sentence. In other words, a summary is a significant shortening of an original text.
  • The summary should capture the main ideas of the original text in thesummarizer’s own words.
  • The person preparing the summary may include quotations from the original passage but must remember to use quotation marks around the quoted material.
4. Give students permission—in fact, encouragement—to look up and figure out as a group the meanings of words they do not know or words that seem to be used in unusual ways in the decision.
5. If when you look at the groups’ summaries you find that many students were not able to break through the 19th-century legal language, think about enlisting someone who works in a legal or paralegal position to help your students work their way through the Supreme Court text.
6. At the end of this exercise, elicit from students their reactions to what for many will be their first exposure to legal reasoning and legal language. Did students have an intellectually curious or simply a negative experience dealing with this kind of text?
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Discussion Questions

1. Discuss the conditions aboard the Amistad that made a mutiny of this magnitude possible.
2. Explain how and why Africans participated in the enslavement of their own people.
3. Contrast the philosophies of the “loose packers” with those of the “tight packers.”
4. Discuss the conditions and common practices aboard a slave ship bound for the “middle passage.”
5. Analyze the possible interpretations for the statement: “Slaves became more valuable than gold.”
6. Debate who should have assumed the financial responsibility for returning the Amistad Africans to their homeland.
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You can evaluate students’ written responses using the following three-point rubric:
Three points:summary fully meets the technical requirements (see Procedures); summary is highly coherent; summary is error-free
Two points:summary mostly meets the technical requirements; summary is mostly coherent; summary is mostly error-free
One point:summary does not meet most of the technical requirements; summary lacks coherence; summary contains many errors
You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by determining an ideal length for the summary.
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In Memoriam
Direct students to create a memorial to those who lost their lives or otherwise suffered because of theAmistad. The memorial can be a physical object or a piece of writing, art, or music. It should include some pertinent historical facts so that an audience can understand why the people are being commemorated.

A “Peculiar Institution”
In 1826, William Lloyd Garrison enlisted the support of the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier for his national antislavery society. Whittier used his poetic voice as an effective antislavery device. His poem “The Slave Ship” expressed his antipathy toward slavery and exposed the horrors that took place aboard the French slaverLe Rodeurand the Spanish slaverLeon. The poem appeared in the October 11, 1834, issue of the abolitionist publicationThe Liberator.
Ask students to read and analyze Whittier’s poem. Then ask them to assume that Garrison has recruited them to help with his antislavery crusade. Students should write poems expressing their views on slavery and exposing the horrors that took place on slave ships during the middle passage.
If students can handle a more demanding piece of literature, suggest they read and then analyze Robert Hayden’s poem “Middle Passage.”

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Suggested Readings

Oh, Freedom! Kids Talk about the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made It Happen
Casey King and Linda Barrett Osborne; foreword by Rosa Parks; portraits by Joe Brooks. New York: Knopf, 1997
Interviews by young people of participants in the civil rights movement accompany essays that describe the history of efforts to make equality a reality for African Americans.

The New African American Urban History
Kenneth W. Goings & Raymond A. Mohl [editors]. Sage Publications, 1996
This collection of essays covers: 1) the transplanted social customs of rural blacks to the north, 2) the experience of newly urbanized blacks as household wage laborers, 3) black working-class opposition in the Jim Crow South, and 4) overviews of black Americans as city dwellers.

The First Passage: Blacks in the Americas, 1502-1617
Colin A. Palmer. Oxford University Press, 1995
This work is the first volume of a series entitled, “The Young Oxford History of African Americans.” Illustrations and maps accompany the text to create the historical visual images for middle to junior high school readers.

Veronica Chambers. Harcourt Brace, 1998
A fictional account of the 1839 revolt of Africans aboard the slave ship Amistad and the subsequent legal case argued before the Supreme Court in 1841 by former president John Quincy Adams.

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Black Resistance. . .Slavery in the United States
Located at the AFRO-Americ@’s Black History Museum, this site includes details of the Amistad Mutiny and other slavery resistance efforts.

AMISTAD America Inc.
AMISTAD America Inc. is a new, not-for-profit educational organization formed to promote the project to build the AMISTAD replica.

Connections: Middle Passage
The history of the Atlantic Slave Trade is the story of an estimated 30 to 60 million Africans who experienced a long and dehumanizing journey from the West Coast of Africa to South America, the Caribbean, and North America.

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Click on any of the vocabulary words below to hear them pronounced and used in a sentence.

speaker    commerce
Definition:The buying and selling of commodities; trade.
Context:Few cared about the millions of African men, women and children shipped across the Atlantic to fuel the commerce of the New World with their labor, in the largest forced migration in human history.

speaker    mutiny
Definition:The willful refusal to obey constituted authority; a revolt against one’s superiors.
Context:Between 1699 and 1845 there were over 150 documented mutinies aboard slave ships.

speaker    avaricious
Definition:Greedy for money.
Context:Cuba was not supposed to have slaves, but because the governor of Cuba was avaricious, he allowed slaves in the city if he was given a little money for each slave that was brought in.

speaker    slaver
Definition:A ship or person engaged in transporting slaves.
Context:In 1788 Dr. Alexander Faulkenbridge wrote about becoming physically ill after spending only 15 minutes in a slaver’s hold.

speaker    abolitionist
Definition:One who advocated that the institution of slavery be done away with.
Context:With pressure building from John Newton and other abolitionists, both Great Britain and the United States banned the slave trade on January 1, 1808.

speaker    commandeer
Definition:To take possession of by force.
Context:Cinque had accomplished the impossible; he had commandeered the slaver’s vessel.

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This lesson plan may be used to address the academic standards listed below. These standards are drawn from Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education: 2nd Edition and have been provided courtesy of theMid-continent Research for Education and Learningin Aurora, Colorado.
Grade level:9-12
Subject area:world history
Understands the causes and consequences of the agricultural and industrial revolutions from 1750 to 1850.
Understands different perspectives regarding the nature of the African slave trade (e.g., how the African slave trade might be compared to the migration of Chinese workers to North and South America, and Indian workers to the Caribbean in the 19th century; the significance of the book, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustava Vasa, Written about Himself,” about the slave trade).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:world history
Understands the causes and consequences of the agricultural and industrial revolutions from 1750 to 1850.
Understands reasons why various countries abolished slavery (e.g., evangelical arguments against slavery, and the economic, evangelical, and “Enlightened” reasons for Britain’s abolition of slavery; why Brazil was the last nation to abolish the slave trade; the importance of Enlightenment thought, Christian piety, democratic revolutions, slave resistance, and emancipation of the slaves in the Americas).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:world history
Understands the causes and consequences of the agricultural and industrial revolutions from 1750 to 1850.
Knows the extent of slave imports to Brazil, Spanish America, the British West Indies, the French West Indies, British North America, and the U.S. and how the influx of slaves differed in the periods 1701 to 1810 and 1811 to 1871.

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:U.S. history
Understands how the values and institutions of European economic life took root in the colonies and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas.
Understands the characteristics of mercantilism in colonial America (e.g., overseas trade and the Navigation Acts, the Atlantic economy and the triangular trade, economic development in French, English and Spanish colonies).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:U.S. history
Understands how the values and institutions of European economic life took root in the colonies and how slavery reshaped European and African life in the Americas.
Understands the conditions of slavery (e.g., “the middle passage”) and the response of enslaved Africans (slave resistance in different parts of the Americas).

Grade level:9-12
Subject area:civics
Understands issues concerning the disparities between ideals and reality in American political and social life.
Knows the discrepancies between American ideals and the realities of American social and political life (e.g., the ideal of equal opportunity and the reality of unfair discrimination).

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Winona Morrissette-Johnson, social studies teacher, T.C. Williams High School, Alexandria, Virginia.
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