This weekend, Freedom Schooner Amistad, a replica of the original Amistad, will be in Brooklyn Bridge Park Pier 5 today from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The replica was launched in 2000 by Amistad America Inc., who run the ship for educational purposes, traveling along the east coast, and sailing the vessel to major points of the Transatlantic slave trade, including England, Cuba, and Sierra Leone. They're working this weekend in conjunction with the New York Harbor School.

In 1839, the slave ship Amistad left Havana for Puerto Principe, Cuba, carrying 53 recently-sold West African slaves to work on a sugar plantation. One slave, Sengbe Pieh, found a loose nail on the ship's deck, and later that night, started to unchain his fellow captives. The next morning, after learning from the ship's African chef that the slaves were to be killed and eaten by the crew, Pieh led a revolt. Much of the crew was killed (the chef went first) while the navigator, Don Pedro Montez, was forced by the slaves to reroute the ship back to Africa. Montez attempted to reroute the boat back to Cuba, but due to the Gulf Stream, they ended up off the coast of Montauk 63 days later, where they were captured by the revenue ship USS Washington. The cargo (read: slaves) and the ship were impounded (read: imprisoned in New Haven, CT) while their legal status was determined.

The ensuing case United States v. The Amistad was based on several claims: The Africans were charged with piracy, The Africans wanted their freedom, the surviving original crew wanted their property (slaves and ship) back, as did Spain, and the Washington's captain wanted his cut of the bounty (the slaves were valued at around $20,000/apiece at the time.)

Two years and three appeals later, the Supreme Court ruled that since the US, Britain, and Spain had all banned the Transatlantic slave trade, the slaves were illegally captured, and therefore free. They returned to Africa in 1842 with the help and financial backing of American missionaries. The incident was a watershed moment for the abolition movement, and today, a statue of Sengbe Pieh stands in front of New Haven's city hall, on the spot where the slaves were impounded.

The replica Amistad is based loosely off the original, as well as similar cargo schooners of the day, with several modern improvements. The replica has a gas engine, chambered cabin, and modern navigation systems, as per Coast Guard regulations (the original had open cargo hold below the deck.) The original Amistad was sold after the trial to a French trader, who renamed her Ion. Beyond that, her fate is unknown.

Slightly wider and longer than the original, the replica can hold a crew of about 20 (emphasizing just how horrible conditions were in the original's cargo hold for the 53 slaves,) and was constructed based on a written description of the original, an artist's rendering, and the original keel measurement. Her crew, based in New Haven, are on hand to provide open deck tours and educate visitors on the history of the ship, the trial, the slave trade at the time, and raise awareness about modern human trafficking.