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Reporter Ted Mann and photojournalist Sean D. Elliot are in Cuba with Amistad, the reproduction schooner built at Mystic Seaport. In 1839, the original Amistad was homeported in Cuba when it was sent to ferry kidnapped Africans bound for slavery.
Havana, Cuba - The schooner Amistad reached the port of Havana right on schedule Thursday, shortly after 2 p.m., in the first-ever visit by the vessel to the home country of its 19th-century namesake.
The Amistad motored out of the harbor in the port city of Matanzas in the early morning hours Thursday, and cruised along the waterfront of the Cuban capital at full sail, flying the U.S., Cuban and United Nations flags – the culmination of a multi-country tour and a dream more than a decade old for the vessel's backers and makers.
"We've been through a lot, and I think all of it has paid off today," Captain Sean Bercaw told the Amistad's 12 professional crew, along with five students and a professor from the University of Massachusetts-Boston who have sailed with the ship on this leg of its journey.
The Amistad was welcomed to Havana on the 10th anniversary of its launch at Mystic Seaport, and on the day that the United Nations and the world community honor the victims of the international slave trade.
The original Amistad was en route from Havana to eastern Cuba in 1839 when it was overtaken by the 53 members of the Mendi tribe who were its captives and were destined for plantations in the island nation's agricultural lands. The Mendi had been captured in present-day Sierra Leone and brought to Cuba as slaves, in contravention of the Spanish and English treaty banning slave trading among the respective empires and their colonies.
The captured Amistad sailed up the east coast of the United States and was captured off of Montauk and towed into New London. An eventual court ruling found that the men and children aboard had been kidnapped and were not legally slaves – the captives were freed.
The Amistad's visit was arranged over months by Amistad America, the nonprofit organization that operates the ship, along with financial assistance from the state of Connecticut and other donors.