Nearly 200 years ago, 53 kidnapped Africans started an uprising on the Spanish slave ship, La Amistad. The ship was later confiscated by the United States Revenue Cutter Service. Later, the enslaved Africans involved in the revolt were put on trial for the death of two officers on the ship. The case was famously known as the United States v. The Amistad.
Foone was one of the enslaved Africans behind the revolt. Born in Bumpe in Mendi, Sierra Leone, he was described as a man of a short build at 5’2” but had a “Herculean frame”. Foone had a wife, brothers, sisters, and parents and was working as a rice farmer when he was captured alongside 53 adults and children from Mende in the spring of 1839.
The international slave trade was prohibited at the time. The enslaved Africans were sold to a Spanish enslaver before they were transported to Havana, Cuba aboard a ship named Tecora. Foone and the others were subsequently placed on The Amistad where they were to be sold again on the coasts of Cuba. It was during this period that they decided to rebel.
On June 30, 1839, a few days after they set sail on The Amistad, Sengbe Pieh, one of the enslaved Sierra Leonean who was later renamed Joseph Cinqué, led an uprising that resulted in the death of the captain and the cook on the ship. Two slaves died and two sailors fled. Slaveowners José Ruiz and Pedro Montez were held captive.
Foone, Cinqué and the other slaves demanded the ship be redirected back to Sierra Leone. Instead, Montez and Ruiz instructed the navigator late one night to steer towards the Americas. Two months later, the ship arrived in Long Island, New York. When Ruiz and Montez gave their version of events, the slaves were charged with mutiny and taken to New Haven, Connecticut where they would stand trial.
During the trial, Cinqué served as the slave’s informal representative. Montez and Ruiz claimed that Cinqué and the rest were already slaves when they were sold in Cuba. Mende interpreters translated the testimonies of the slaves. The verdict was in favor of the group of slaves. The case was then appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. In March 1841, the Supreme Court found that the group revolted after being illegally enslaved. The court ordered that the slaves be freed and could return to Africa if they wanted to.
In 1842, Cinqué and the rest of the group returned to Sierra Leone but without Foone. Historians say that after the court decision, abolitionists paid for Foone, Cinqué and the other members of the group to be brought to Farmington, Connecticut. They stayed there while funds were being raised to send them back to their homes and families in Sierra Leone.
It was while in Farmington that, sadly, Foone drowned on August 7, 1841, while bathing in the local center basin. He was buried nearby in the Riverside Cemetery, which contains graves of many abolitionists. Today, Foone’s grave is a popular pilgrimage for tourists mostly from Sierra Leone. His gravestone, marked “FOONE”, was until 1992 the only Amistad landmark in Connecticut. His grave marker reads:
“FOONE A native African who was drowned while bathing – in the Center Basin Aug, 1841. He was one of the Company of slaves under Cinque on board the Schooner Amistad who asserted their rights and took possession of the vessel after having put the Captain, Mate, and others to death, sparing their Masters, Ruez and Montez.”