The Spanish slaving schooner La Amistad was prominent in a historically important event that went far beyond the significance of the vessel alone. On June 26, 1839, 53 black Africans, who were being transported as slaves in La Amistad from the port of Havana, revolted and took command of the vessel. Their subsequent capture and imprisonment in New London, Connecticut on August 26, 1839, foreshadowed a long series of human rights struggles in the US courts that have continued to this day.
Believed to be "Baltimore Built", the Amistad, at 70 46/95 tons Customs House Measurement, represents the smallest of a class of schooners and brigs built specifically for the slave trade between 1820 and 1850. A group of six schooners built in Baltimore around 1836 and identified as being "Purposely built and fitted out for use in the slave trade by the US Counsel General in Havana", were typical of the class.
These "Baltimore Clippers", as they were called, were unique for the period both in design and proportion. The characteristic low freeboard and towering raked rigs identified them identified them as having been built in the Chesapeake Bay. A contemporary painting of La Amistad at the New Haven Historical Society clearly shows a Baltimore Clipper type. This painting, typical of ship portraits of that era, showed the vessel with an "enhanced" freeboard and the people at a slightly smaller scale.
Examples of the unique hull models and rigs of these vessels are well documented, and there are many accounts of how they sailed. The Baltimore Clipper as a type was only useful in occupations where modest capacity and fast sailing were required -- primarily privateering and the illicit transport of slaves. Many of the privateers from the War of 1812 were bought by slavers who also had subsequent vessels built from the privateer model. This influence brought about changes to the design that can be summarized as follows:
Increase in deadrise and draft
Sharper waterlines and less displacement
More, lighter sails
Unencumbered decks with fewer openings
Ultimately, they evolved from privateers to become extreme downwind flyers for the Tropical Atlantic.