Amistad arrives early after smooth trip to Norwich Harbor

Norwich — Everyone on shore involved in bringing the Amistad up the Thames River and to Norwich Harbor for the first time fretted throughout the morning on when and whether the historic replica vessel would make the trip.

At the end of the voyage Tuesday, Matthew Otto, the lead rigger at Mystic Seaport who was hired as delivery captain, declared that "nothing dramatic" happened during the voyage up the narrow river navigational channel, beneath the 75-foot high Mohegan-Pequot Bridge and into Norwich Harbor.

By 3 p.m., a small party of city officials was waiting on the dock at the Marina at American Wharf to welcome the vessel to Norwich after a smooth and quicker-than-expected trip from Mystic.

A quick escort by a Norwich police boat brought the vessel to the large-vessel pier at the marina. The Amistad crew blew the ship's horn to announce its arrival.

On the opposite shore at the Howard T. Brown Memorial Park, several fishermen shouted and cheered.

Divine Schneider, 14, was among the fishermen who hailed the ship's arrival. He quickly packed up his fishing gear and walked over to the marina to see the ship up close. Schneider carried an antique fishing rod with him. He had had the rod for some time and couldn't find anyone who could tell him more about it.

"I've been trying to have it checked out, and I saw this old boat and thought someone might know about it," Schneider said.

Norwich city Historian Dale Plummer, co-chairman of the Emancipation Proclamation Commemoration Committee, greeted Schneider and gave him a quick version of the original Amistad's story. In 1839, the vessel was carrying 53 kidnapped Africans, who broke free of their chains, captured the ship and made their way to Long Island Sound and New London.

"Wow," Schneider said more than once during the tale. He stayed to talk to a few crew members who examined his rod and guessed that it could date to the 1940s.

Norwich is the first port of call for the Amistad in nearly two years, as the vessel has been under repair since its return trip from Cuba.

The Amistad will participate in Norwich's Freedom Weekend, the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Starting at 6:30 Friday evening, the Verdin Bell Co. will cast the nation's first Emancipation Proclamation commemoration bell for the city Friday.

The Amistad will be open for free tours from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. Complete schedules of events are available at Norwich City Hall and at www.norwichfreedombell.com.

c.bessette@theday.com

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