On Wednesday researchers announced they’ve located the remains of
the last known ship known to bring enslaved Africans to what we now call The United
According to the
Alabama Historical Commission, slave importing was officially
banned in 1808, though an illegal trans-Atlantic slave trade continued for many
years. In 1860, fifty years after importing slaves was deemed ‘illegal’, a ship
named the Clotilda illegally transported 110 people from present day Benin on the
west coast of Africa, to Mobile, Alabama. After it’s delivery of black people to
slave owners, just one year before the Civil War, the ship was burned to destroy
evidence of its illegal activity.
discovery of the Clotilda is an extraordinary archaeological find,”
said Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, executive director of the Alabama Historical
Commission, in a statement, “The voyage represented one
of the darkest eras of modern history and is a profound discovery of the
tangible evidence of slavery.”
As the story has been told by
historian Natalie S. Robertson , the treacherous slave trade was literally a game for some. Alabama
plantation owner Timothy Meaher made a bet with someone that he and his people could evade
detection and bring a shipload of Africans across the ocean. And so a schooner,
Clotilda, set sail.
were smuggling people as much for defiance as for sport,” Robertson said.
If the name Clotilda sounds familiar
it’s probably because you remember when The Root founder, Henry Louis Gates Jr., met with The Roots’ Questlove to trace his lineage back to Africa. What Gates
discovered is that Quest’s direct ancestors were listed as being on board that very ship.
The Africans who came on The
Clotilda spent the next five years as slaves during the American Civil War and
were freed only after the South had lost. Because they had no means to return
home to Africa, about 30 of them used money earned working in fields, as maids
and house-servants, or on ships, to purchase land from the Meaher family and create
an all-black community still known to this day as Africatown.
This week National Geographic spoke with other descendants of founders of Africatown about what the re-discovery of The Clotilda means to them and their community:
Authorities are working on preserving the shipwreck in place where it’s been found.