Sengbe Pieh , hero of the Amistad revolt

Sengbe Pieh, of the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone, was born in 1813. At the age of 26 he was captured and sold to a Spanish slave master, who took him and 48 others to Cuba where he was sold to a Spanish sugar farmer, Jose Ruiz. Along with other slaves, he was chained and put on board the Amistad ship bound for Ruiz's plantation. On the third day at sea, Sengbe managed to break free of his chains, release his companions and arm them with cane knives. They killed the captain, forced the crew overboard and demanded that the Spanish slave master sail the Amistad back to Sierra Leone. The cunning master tried to deceive them by directing the boat to Cuba, but a storm drove the ship north-eastward along the coast of the United States, where Sengbe and his men were captured by the US navy and charged with murder and piracy. A group of American abolitionists came to the rescue, forming an Amistad Committee and hiring well-known lawyers to defend the slaves and secure their release. James Cinque, as Sengbe Pieh became known in America, campaigned publicly against the evils of slavery before returning to Sierra Leone at the age of 29, accompanied by American missionaries. The Amistad Committee continued its fight to end slavery, and after emancipation they set up schools and colleges for newly freed slaves. Sengbe's picture hangs in many public buildings and black colleges in the United States. An account of his gallant deeds appears in many history books. His portrait features on the five-thousand-leones bank note in Sierra Leone.

A Few Revolts

1526 According to Aptheker, and others, the first documented enslaved African rebellion in the Western Hemisphere, was at the Spanish settlement of San Miguel de Gualdape where enslaved Africans rebelled against their conditions in the fall of 1526.

1537 The first documented enslave African rebellion in Mexico, occurred in 1537; this was followed by the establishment of various runaway enslave African's settlements called "palenques.".

1600 In Brazil, in a sugar cane region near the Atlantic ocean known as Pernambuco, a group of 40 enslave Africans rebelled against their master. They killed all the white employees and burned the houses and plantation. They headed to a very hostile area in the mountains, known as Palmares, because of its abundance of palm trees. In this place an African community was born which lasted for over 100 years. It was divided into eleven fortified sites. There, a population estimated to be about 20 000 free Africans created a new religion and a common language to bring together at least six different African cultures. It is argued that they organized the first socialist society in world. They also mobilized an army that could take over Pernambuco, if they wanted to. They defeated seven attacks from Brazilian military forces and from a Dutch army that had invaded and occupied that region for some years. They ignored a proposal of peace and freedon for all, from the king of Portugal. Zumbi of Palmares, today a hero for Brazilian blacks, was the name of an young acolyte who grew up and became the greatest leader of this African community. Also in this community the first forms of Capoeira which is a deadly martial art, were developed.

1630 In Brazil, many enslave Africans with assistance from Palmares an escape enslaved African community in the mountains, left the plantations and fought the Portuguese and Dutch Armies. This fighting continued up until 1644. It is important to point out that the Dutch and Portuguese Armies were formed by very experienced and well-armed soldiers. But the Africans developed a system of fighting called "jungle war" or ambush. Capoeira which is a deadly martial art, was the key element in the unexpected attacks. With fast and tricky movements the African caused considerable damage to the white men. Capoeira became their weapon, their symbol of freedom.

1663 First serious enslave African conspiracy in Colonial America, Sept. 13. Servant betrayed plot of White servants and enslave Africans in Gloucester County, Va.

1712 Enslaved Africans revolt, New York, April 7. A group of slaves plotting rebellion bound themselves to secrecy by "sucking ye blood of each Others hand." Several months later, they set fire to a building and attacked approaching whites, killing nine. Eventually, 70 Negroes were taken. Six were pardoned and 27 condemned, one being hung alive in chains so, stated the Governor" . . . there has been the most exemplary punishment inflicted that could be possibly thought of . . ."

1700’s After a half century of guerrilla warfare against colonial and European troops, the Maroons of Surinam who were escaped enslaved Africans, signed treaties with the Dutch colonial government in the 1760s, enabling them to live a virtually independent existence. Their population was estimated to be between 25,000 and 47,000 during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

1720 Nanny of the Maroons stands out in history as the only female among Jamaica’s national heroes. She possessed that fierce fighting spirit generally associated with the courage of men. In fact, Nanny is described as a fearless Asante warrior who used militarist techniques to fool and beguile the English. Nanny was a leader of the Maroons at the beginning of the 18th. Century. She was known by both the Maroons and the British settlers as an outstanding military leader who became, in her lifetime and after, a symbol of unity and strength for her people during times of crisis. She was particularly important to them in the fierce fight with the British during the First Maroon War from 1720 to 1739. Although she has been immortalized in songs and legends, certain facts about Nanny (or "Granny Nanny", as she was affectionately known) have also been documented. Both legends and documents refer to her as having exceptional leadership qualities. She was a small wiry woman with piercing eyes. Her influence over the Maroons was so strong that it seemed to be supernatural and was said to be connected to her powers of obeah. She was particularly skilled in organising the guerrilla warfare carried out by the Eastern Maroons to keep away the British troops who attempted to penetrate the mountains to overpower them. Her cleverness in planning guerrilla warfare confused the British and their accounts of the fights reflect the surprise and fears which the Maroon traps caused among them. Beside inspiring her people to ward off troops, Nanny was also a type of chieftainess or wise woman of the village, who passed down legends and encouraged the continuation of customs, music and songs that had come with the people from Africa, and that instilled in them confidence and pride.

1733 USVI One of the most successful slave rebellions in the long history of self-determination in the Caribbean took place then on the Danish-controlled island of St. John. It was 3 a.m. on Nov. 23, 1733, a group of enslaved Africans broken into their "master's" house, a Mr. Soetman's, stripping him of his cloth and forced him to dance and sing. They ran a sword through his body and cut off his head and washed themselves in his blood. Following the execution, they killed his stepdaughter Hissing, a 13 year old, and left her body on top of him. About 4 a.m. that same morning, a group of 14 enslaved Africans marched through the gates of Fortsberg at Coral Bay, St. John. They slaughtered five soldiers at the fort.

The revolt spread, particularly on the northwest side of the island, and some 300 enslaved Africans were on the war path, going from estate to estate. The rebellion continued until June of 1734. However, many historians have the tendency to overlook the real cause that led up to this bloody revolt. They have polished the history to the point that you may think the enslaved and brutalized Africans were just bloodthirsty. The enslaved Africans who initiated the revolt were known as the "Akan" or "Aminas." They originally were from the Gold Coast of West Africa, including Ghana.

In the 1730s enslaved Africans were brought to St. John and St. Thomas to work on the plantations; many slaves escaped into the forest of the island. This was a cause of major concern for planters, who owned the slaves, and of the Danish government. Gov. Philip Gardelin issued an 18-article code to control enslaved Africans on the islands from running away. First, enslaved Africans were not considered human beings in the Danish West Indies. They were property, to buy and to sell. The document stated that any runaways would be subjected to torture with a red-hot iron. They could also lose a leg or ear. The leaders of runaway slaves would be tortured and hung. Additional punishment included whippings and branding. Slaves failing to report what they knew of runaways would be branded in their forehead and would get 100 lashes. A slave found guilty of conspiracy would lose his/her legs unless the owners requested a lighter sentence. Cowardly slaves that "ratted" on other slaves received awards from the Danish authorities. The code also stated that any slaves who didn't show deference to white people would lose their right hand; or hanging for a slaves who struck or threatened to strike a white person. In other words, enslaved Africans in the Danish colonials had no rights. The female slaves were raped and sexually exploited. The "owners" of slaves had the right to do as they pleased with their "property." Thousands of enslaved African wo-men were raped, killed and abused. In fact, the majority of slaves who ran away- known as the maroons - were female slaves.

Another reason leading up to the slave revolt on St. John was the natural disasters. Before the upraising of slaves on St. John in November of 1733, there were long periods of drought; followed in July by a devastating hurricane that destroyed crops, buildings and shipments. That same year, another hurricane hit the island. After that, a plague of insects destroyed many of the products of the islands and slaves teetered on famine. We today would say, "All hell breaks lose." Well, that's exactly what happened in 1733. The enslaved Africans of the Akan tribe believed in the "migration of souls." When they die, they believed that they would go into a better world. For this and other reason the slaves of St. John took things into their own hands. The Danish government got help from the French island of Martinique to hunt down slaves and killed them. Some slaves escaped by jumping over a cliff known as Ram Head.

1763 The Berbice enslaved Africans Rebellion broke out (at the time when Berbice was a separate Dutch colony). The revolt is the result of the cruelty with which the Dutch plantation owners have been treating the enslaved Africans. The enslaved Africans led by Cuffy (Kofi) held the county of Berbice for almost one year. The revolution began at plantation Magdalenenburg which is up the Canje River. The population on the plantation was approximately 3,833 Africans, 346 Europeans and 244 Amerindian (Native) labourers. Within one month the Africans were in control of almost all the plantations in Berbice. Some of the Dutch soldiers fled others were killed by the Africans. The Africans were eventually defeated because they entered into negotiations with the Europeans who assured them that they were negotiating in good faith. The Europeans were actually waiting for the arrival of reinforcements. When the shiploads of reinforcement arrived, the Europeans being the majority and better armed, were then able to defeat the Africans. Almost a year after the revolution began Cuffy killed himself rather than be taken captive by the Europeans. Today Cuffy is a National Hero of Guyana.


1791 Haitian Revolution began with the revolt of enslaved Africans in the northern province, Aug 22. An estimated 350,000 people died in this revolution before Haiti was declared a free republic on January 1, 1804. This was the most significant rebellion during the MAAFA.


1811 In January of 1811, a powerfull uprising of enslaved Africans took place in the area of New Orleans, Lousiana. On January 8, 1811 over 500 enslaved Africans, led by a laborer named Charles on the Deslonde plantation (some 26 miles upriver from New Orleans) downed their tools and grabed a few weapons. They then proceeded to march on the city. Their goal was to capture the city and free all the enslaved Africans in the lower Mississippi valley. As they moved down the river, they pushed back the enslavers and their flunkeys, killing many and burning several plantations. There rallying cries were, "On to New Orleans!" and "Freedom or death!" They got to within 10 miles of the city, where they were attacked by U.S. government troops. Casualties were taken on both sides. This was the largest enslaved Africans revolt in the United States.

1835 In Brazil, 1835 was the year of the famous Revolt of Malęs. Malę was the name of a black slave contingent bought in Muslim countries, that left few descendants in Brasil. They had culture, were monotheists, knew how to read and write, used to teach the Koran to others enslaved Africans and organized revolts in 1807, 1809, 1813, 1816, 1827 and, the biggest, in 1835, all in Bahia state. Tired of fighting them the Brazillian government qualified them too dangerous to stay in Brasil and thus they were deported back to Africa. From then on, to buy this kind of slaves was forbidden.

1839 Amistad mutiny led by Sengbe Pieh, were captured. After trial in Conn., returned to Africa.

Contributions made by
Italo Ramos [email protected]