This tale of an 1839 revolt aboard the slave ship Amistad and the subsequent trial made excellent use of several locations in Jamestown, Bristol, Providence, and Newport during March 1997.
Jamestown: In the scene where the Africans row ashore in a lifeboat, they land on Fort Wetherill Beach.
Bristol: The river in the woods where the Africans fill their buckets is located on Mount Hope Farm in Bristol. The house on the same property was used for the scene where the courier arrives at John Adams' (Anthony Hopkins) farm with the letter from Roger Baldwin (Matthew McConaughey).
Providence: All exterior scenes of the nation's Capital Building in Washington, D.C., including those with Adams in the garden, are actually the Rhode Island State House. The interior scenes of President Van Buren (Nigel Hawthorne) in his office were shot in Governor Almond's State Room.
Newport: Newport's locations helped recreate nineteenth century New Haven, Connecticut. Washington Square was the setting for a couple of exterior shots, including the scene where the courier leaves New Haven with the letter for Adams. The jail façade was constructed out of painted fiberglass in Queen Ann's Square in front of Trinity Church. The Old Colony House hosted several scenes, most notably those that took place in the courtroom. The Old Colony House Green Room supplied the setting for Baldwin's office, where he composed his letter to Adams, and the attic of the building served as Theodore Joadson's (Morgan Freeman) bedroom. Marble House has the distinction of having doubled as both the Spanish Royal Palace (for the scenes with young Queen Isabella (Anna Paquin)) and Buckingham Palace (for the scene where Queen Victoria seals a letter with wax). The church where Judge Coglin (Jeremy Northam) wrestles with his decision is St. Mary's. The mansion where dinner guests are seen alighting from a carriage is Rosecliff.
Many extras were enlisted from Newport's winter population; local artist John Hagen sat in as the court artist and it's his hand that we see penning the letter requesting John Adams' help with the case.
Spielberg and his wife, Kate Capshaw, McConaghey, and Freeman all stayed at the Newport Marriot during filming, while the Hotel Viking hosted the crew and some extras.
During his stay, Spielberg made himself at home. According to the June 1997 issue of Rhode Island Monthly, "...he took in the Jim Carrey flick Liar Liar in Middletown; got a twenty percent discount at Newport's Rockport Company when he went shoe shopping with movie hunk and Amistad star Matthew McConaughey; and celebrated his son's birthday with wife Kate Capshaw at the Brick Alley Pub." And in the November/December 1999 issue of the online magazine MovieMaker, Spielberg was quoted as saying that he would film in Rhode Island again "in a heartbeat."
During the early planning stages of this film, Rick Smith, the head of the Film and Television Office of the Rhode Island Economic Development Corporation, was reprimanded by his superiors for sending joke email—they didn't believe he was really corresponding with Steven Spielberg. That gives some indication of what the environment for film was like in Rhode Island at that time. All that changed when the production of Amistad came to Newport. The film boosted Newport's economy for nearly a year after filming wrapped up, bringing in about $5 million, and the doors were opened for a slew of new film projects.
Photojournalist Vic Farmer documented much of the action in Newport during filming in March 1987. His comments and photographs can be found here.