Published in The Bulletin

By Matt Grahn

NORWICH— The replica of the Amistad was welcomed in Norwich on Monday night. The 129 ft. “floating classroom” will be staying in Norwich for this week. During the week, there will be tours explaining the story of the men captured as slaves in 1839 and freed in 1841. As well, there will be a march Thursday at 7 p.m. from the Amistad, moored at The Marina at American Wharf, up to Castle Church on Broadway.

In 1839, a group of 53 Mende men, from what is now Sierra Leone, were captured and taken as slaves. After staging an uprising which killed the ship’s cook and captain, ordered the slaveholders who bought them to return them to Africa. Instead, the ship was steered north and was captured by an American ship. After being captured, they were first brought to Long Island, and then to New London. Abolitionists in Connecticut and the north supported the Mende men. After a legal battle, the Supreme Court decided the captives were never slaves, as they were transported and kidnapped illegally. Only 35 of the 53 men lived to return home, according to the U.S. National Archives and the Discovering Amistad websites

With this in mind, the mission of Discovering Amistad, the organization that owns the ship, is that’s “it’s a story with a ship, not a ship with a story,” said Executive Director Paula Mann-Agnew.

“It’s about keeping the story alive, and what lessons we can learn from the story,” she said. “It’s also helping students understand, as Sengbe Pieh (the leader of the uprising) is the hero in this story, they can be heroes in the story of their own lives, if they tap into their leadership ability.”

With the stay in Norwich, the organization was granted $12,000 from The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut, to help teach Norwich youth during the ship’s stay about the Amistad, and to have them participate in a community service project, Mann-Agnew said.

Funding for Discovering Amistad also comes from the state. $1.3 million is budgeted for maintenance of the ship, and a yearly $515,000 for operating expenses, said State Senator Cathy Osten.

“The state has always been a proponent of the Amistad for its history,” she said.

The ceremony was accompanied with speeches, African dance by Nia Arts, music by Castle Church, and prayer in English and Spanish by Alex Valle, an elder of Castle Church, and prayer in Haitian Creole by Ronald Charles of Eglise Evangelique Ps 23.

This Norwich visit is a part of Discovering Amistad’s 2023 Voyage for Freedom, making stops through Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts. Full information is available on the Discovering Amistad website.