Historic homecoming for Amistad replica

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At 73, Capt. William Pinkney has successfully returned the replica of the historic slave ship Amistad to where the story all began: Havana.

The Freedom Schooner Amistad put in March 25 in Havana - the place where the historic voyage of La Amistad began.

The Freedom Schooner Amistad, the 140-foot replica of the original slave vessel La Amistad, put in at Havana as part of its Caribbean Heritage Tour.

"This is something I always felt was important to do for myself, for others and for my ancestors," says Pinkney, a Meriden, Conn., resident who is of African heritage.
In 1839, 53 African slaves were kidnapped, sold to Spanish slavers and brought to Havana. But, while being transported from one Cuban port to another aboard the Spanish schooner La Amistad, the slaves revolted and seized control of the vessel. Pushed up the coast by a gale, the schooner zigzagged its way to Long Island, where the vessel was taken by the Americans.
In an 1841 case argued successfully by John Quincy Adams, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to free the African captives, according to the Amistad's Web site (www.amistadamerica.org).
Pinkney discussed the replica Amistad and its Caribbean Heritage Tour during a April 16 visit to the Shennecossett Yacht Club in Groton, Conn., that was a fund-raiser for Sea-Legs, a non-profit organization offering maritime experiences to children who would otherwise not have boating opportunities.
It was all the sweeter that the Amistad's crew made port March 25 in Havana, he says, because that is the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It departed the Cuban capital in early May to return to Mystic, Conn., arriving at the end of April.
"It was so important for us to be in Cuba on that day," says Pinkney. "And it is so important that it was done. This is part of our worldwide history."
The tour began in summer 2009 from Norfolk, Va. Pinkney and his rotating crew visited a dozen Caribbean countries that all had ties to the Atlantic slave trade. Pinkney and Amistad America, the non-profit group that maintains the vessel, made arrangements with Cuban officials and got approval prior to the voyage for docking in Havana.
The voyage also marked the 10th anniversary of the replica's launch at the Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, Conn. R.M. Maxwell - director of the planetarium at Mystic Seaport and friend of Pinkney since 1979 - says it was incredibly fulfilling to see the Amistad return to Cuba. Maxwell worked on the replica and was part of the original crew that launched it in 2000.
"Sailing Amistad was the culmination of 50 years of sailing - it fulfilled my personal bucket list," says Maxwell, 63. "We had plans from the beginning to take it to Cuba - it's exciting to see the project come full circle."
The Amistad is now in Mystic Seaport and is undergoing rigging repairs in preparation for her homecoming ceremony, which is scheduled for May 20 in New London, Conn.

Capt. William Pinkney (right) and R.M. Maxwell say the voyage brought the Amistad project full circle.

See related article:

- Capt. William Pinkney as a sailor

This article originally appeared in the Connecticut and New York Home Waters section of the July 2010 issuel