Remnants of a boat wreck recently discovered by a journalist in Alabama may belong to the last ship that transported slaves from Africa to the United States.
Archaeologists and other experts who have examined the remains say it is probably the Clotilda, a ship that was burned and buried after transporting 110 captives to Mobile, Alabama, in 1860.
The men, women and children who arrived on the ship were kidnapped and brought to the United States 59 years after Britain banned the slave trade in its colonies.
The discovery was made by Ben Raines, an investigative and environmental journalist at AL.com, who based his research on historical records and elders’ testimony, according to a report on AL.com.
“What’s left of the ship lies partially buried in mud alongside an island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a few miles north of the city of Mobile. The hull is tipped to the port side, which appears almost completely buried in mud. The entire length of the starboard side, however, is almost fully exposed”, Raines wrote.
“The wreck, which is normally underwater, was exposed during extreme low tides brought on by the same weather system that brought the “Bomb Cyclone” to the Eastern Seaboard. Low tide around Mobile was about two and a half feet below normal thanks to north winds that blew for days”.
Taking advantage of the low tides, Raines explored the area, which can only be reached by boat, used a drone to take aerial photos and took his findings to a group of archaeologists at the University of West Florida, in Pensacola. He then ferried the experts to the area. They said that the remains of the ship coincide with the years when the Clotilda was built, and the place where it was found matches the historical records.
The history of the Clotilda has captivated archaeologists and historians for decades. The slavers responsible for the human trafficking ordered that it be burned so that there was no evidence of the trip, since transporting slaves to the U.S. was illegal at that time. The enslaved came from the Kingdom of Dahomey, modern day Benin.
“With the nation edging closer to civil war over the slavery issue, Alabama steamboat captain and plantation owner Timothy Meaher made an infamous bet that he could sneak slaves into the country, right under the noses of federal troops at the twin forts that guarded the mouth of Mobile Bay”, AL.com reported. “Historian Sylvianne Diouf traced the evolution of the wicked scheme and the resulting journey in her excellent book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama, published in 2007.”
Meaher eventually boasted of his deed in statements to a local newspaper.
The people who arrived on the ship were enslaved for five years, until abolition in 1865. After unsuccessfully petitioning Meaher and then the federal government to return them to their country in Africa, members of the group bought land north of Mobile and founded the Africatown community, where descendants of the slaves brought in the Clotilda still live.
The history of the ship was recently featured in “Finding your roots” a PBS series hosted by historian Henry Louis Gates. In an episode that aired in December, popular African American percussionist Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) found out that Charles Lewis, his great great great grandfather, was one of the slaves brought in the Clotilda.
The iconic African American author and anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston conducted a series of interviews with Cudjo Lewis, the last survivor of the Clotilda and finished a book in 1931 but her work was never published. The book will finally be printed nearly a century later, by publishing company HarperCollins. “Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave” will be on sale in May.
Hurston met Cudjo Lewis in 1927, according to HarperCollins. In a biography of Hurston, author Valerie Boyd wrote: “What moved Hurston most about the old man — whom she always called by his African name, Kossola — was how much he continued to miss his people in (what was then) Nigeria. ‘I lonely for my folks,’ he told her.”
About Cudjo, Hurston wrote: “After 75 years, he still had that tragic sense of loss. That yearning for blood and cultural ties. That sense of mutilation. It gave me something to feel about.”