Line forms for chance to step aboard history

Free tours of replica of schooner Amistad draw curious visitors

October 08, 2001|By Laurie Willis | By Laurie Willis,SUN STAFF

At age 3, Jamila Brown is too young to understand the significance of the Amistad, but that didn't stop her parents, Shirlene and Michael Brown of Columbia, from taking her on a free deck tour yesterday at the Inner Harbor.

"We watched the movie, but we wanted to see it and maybe learn a little more about the ship and the history," Shirlene Brown said. "It has been interesting. We'll tell her more when she gets older."

A $3.1 million replica of the Amistad - Spanish for friendship - is docked at the harbor until Oct. 18, when it will continue its voyage along the East Coast. The ship arrived Friday to much fanfare, and since then people have eagerly waited in line to go aboard.

People like Nicole Maroney, 21, and Erik Hunter, 22, of Grand Forks, N.D. In town to celebrate his sister's marriage, Hunter said he wanted to tour the ship to learn more than what was portrayed in the 1997 film directed by Steven Spielberg. Seeing the ship in person - as opposed to on the big screen - helped Hunter "visualize what it was like," he said.

Doug Smythe, 42, toured Amistad with his son, Derek, a 15-year-old freshman at Perryville High School in Cecil County. Doug Smythe said he thinks the replica can help ensure that people don't forget the past.

"Any history's good," Smythe said. "That's the problem with us - we're forgetting our history."

Mary Fenn, co-captain of Amistad, said she hopes the tours will help dispel some of the myths about Amistad, including that it transported thousands of slaves.

"People expect it to be bigger," Fenn said yesterday. "That misconception probably comes from the movie and from people thinking it was a slave ship in the middle passage."

Amistad was a 129-foot cargo schooner that set sail from Havana on June 28, 1839, bound for a Caribbean plantation.

It carried 53 Africans - 49 men, three girls and one boy - who had been abducted from West Africa and sold illegally. They were never to be slaves.

After a revolt led by one of the prisoners, Sengbe Peih, the ship soon landed in America. After being tried on murder charges - former President John Quincy Adams was one of their lawyers - the captives were freed.

Below deck where the prisoners were held, items on display include a cat-o'-nine-tails, or whip; ankle shackles; and a machete made from sugar cane. Other items are a mahogany carving of Peih and sketches of prisoners, including Kali, the lone boy and author of a letter to Adams requesting assistance.

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