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Black Arts and Culture

The Clotilda Last Known Slave Ship Found Near Alabama

By Rosaland Tyler
Associate Editor
New Journal and Guide

The last known ship that delivered African slaves to America was the Clotilda, a wooden vessel that arrived in Mobile in 1860 but was deliberately burned, sunk, and recently discovered by researchers.

Remains of the Gulf schooner Clotilda were identified and verified near Mobile after months of assessment, according to a statement by the Alabama Historical Commission. This week, officials plan to present a report on the findings at a community center in Africatown, the site established by the newly emancipated slaves who were illegally transported from Africa in 1860, which was about 52 years after the United States banned the importation of slaves in 1808. However, smugglers kept traveling the Atlantic with wooden ships full of people in chains.

The wooden ship illegally set sail in 1860 with 110 people from what is now the West African nation of Benin to Mobile, Alabama. The Clotilda was then taken into delta waters north of the port and burned to avoid detection.

The captives were later freed and settled a community that’s still called Africatown USA, but no one knew the location of the Clotilda.

The wooden vessel was scuttled the year before the Civil War to hide evidence of its illegal trip and hasn’t been seen since.

“The discovery of the Clotilda is an extraordinary archaeological find,” said Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, executive director of the commission. She said the ship’s journey “represented one of the darkest eras of modern history,” and the wreck provides “tangible evidence of slavery.”

A descendant of one of the Africans who was brought to the South aboard the ship said she got chills when she learned its wreckage had been found.

“I think about the people who came before us who labored and fought and worked so hard,” said Joycelyn Davis, a sixth-generation granddaughter of African captive Charlie Lewis. She added, “I’m sure people had given up on finding it. It’s a wow factor.”

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…see Ship, page 2 (Vol. 119, No. 22)

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