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Sengbe Pieh (c. 1814-1879) was born around 1814 in the town of Mani in Upper Mende country. Said to have been the son of a local chief, he was married with a son and two daughters. Sengbe, a farmer, was going to his field one day in late January 1839, where he was captured in a surprise attack by four men, his right hand tied to his neck, taken to a nearby village with a man called Mayagilalo, apparently the boss of his captors. ⠀

Indebted to the son of the Vai King Manna Siaka, Mayagilalo gave over Sengbe to him in settlement. Sengbe was marched to Lomboko, a notorious slave-trading island and sold to the richest slaver there, the Spaniard Pedro Blanco. In March, the Portuguese slave ship Tecora illegally departed for Cuba with five to six hundred purchased Africans. The ship reached Havana in June, two plantation owners, Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montez, purchased Sengbe and fifty-two others to work on their sugar plantation further down in Cuba. ⠀

Headed to their owner’s plantation near Puerto Principe on the Amistad, onboard Sengbe used a loose spike he had removed from the deck to unshackle himself and other enslaved Africans. Arming himself and other enslaved Africans with cane knives found in the cargo hold. He then led them on deck, where they killed Captain Ferrer and the cook Celestino and wounded the Spaniard Montez. But Sengbe spared Montez and Ruiz life to sail the ship, back to Africa. Instead of following Sengbe’s orders, however, the two cunning plantation owners took advantage of their lack of nautical knowledge, sailing westward, hoping to remain in Cuban waters. But a gale drove the ship northeast along the United States coastline landing in Long Island.

The boat was seized by a United States naval vessel and escorted to New London, Connecticut, where Sengbe Pieh and other Africans were accused of piracy and murder. In March 1841, the Supreme Court ruling set the Amistad captives free, but it did not end slavery in the United States. The court ordered the Africans freed and returned to Africa if they wished. Sengbe Pieh and the other Mende reached their homeland in 1842.

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