Joseph Cinquez was the leader of a revolt among African slaves aboard the Spanish ship "Amistad" en route to Cuba in June 1839. The slaves seized control of the ship but were soon recaptured and charged with murder and piracy. This portrait was done while Cinquez (or "Cinque") awaited trial in New Haven, Connecticut.
John Quincy Adams represented the Africans before the Supreme Court, and thanks to his eloquence, they were set free and allowed to return to Africa.
Sheffield's portrait is sympathetic and informal. The text quotes Cinquez's sober and moving speech to his comrades on board ship after the mutiny. He said, "Brothers, we have done that which we purposed, our hands are now clean for we have Striven to regain the precious heritage we received from our fathers. . . . I am resolved it is better to die than to be a white man's slave . . ."
Commissioned by the publisher of the New York "Sun," the print was described and advertised for sale in the account of the capture of the "Amistad," published in that newspaper's August 31, 1839 issue. (The "Sun" account, evidently erroneous in this detail, names the artist as "James" Sheffield.) The Library's impression of the lithograph was deposited for copyright the same day.