Remains of Clotilda, the last ship to bring slaves to the United States, discovered in Alabama's Mobile River
- Wreckage from the Clotilda was discovered in waters off the coast of Alabama
- Scientists thought they'd identified the ship last year but this was later disproven
- No photos of Clotilda exist, but it was believed to be 23 ft wide and 86 ft long
Researchers working in the murky waters of the northern Gulf Coast have located the wreck of the last ship known to bring enslaved people from Africa to the United States, historical officials said Wednesday.
A statement by the Alabama Historical Commission said remains of the Gulf schooner Clotilda had been identified and verified near Mobile after months of assessment.
Scientists thought they'd identified remains of the Clotilda last year, but ultimately, the wreckage was too large to belong to the schooner.
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Researchers have discovered the wreck of the last ship known to bring enslaved people from Africa to the US. It was very similar in size to the slave ship Amistad (artist's impression)
'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.'
In 1860, the wooden ship illegally transported 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 discovery of the Clotilda sheds new light on a lost chapter of American history,' Frederik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, which took part in the search, told the site.
'This finding is also a critical piece of the story of Africatown, which was built by the resilient descendants of America's last slave ship.'
National Geographic engineer Arthur Clarke analyzed a nail from the wreck and found it was nearly 99% pure iron, consistent with fasteners used in shipbuilding in Alabama in the 1850s
The captives brought over on the schooner were later freed and settled a community that's still called Africatown USA, but no one knew the location of the Clotilda.
A Mobile-area reporter discovered wooden remains of what was initially suspected to be the Clotilda, but the wreck turned out to be that of another ship.
That publicity helped spark a renewed search last year that found another wreck now identified as the slave ship.
Last month, the last known victim of the transatlantic slave trade had been identified. Redoshi (left) was one of 116 West Africans transported to the United States aboard the Clotilda
The dimensions and construction of the wreck match those of the Clotilda, the commission said, as do building materials including locally sourced lumber and metal pieces made from pig iron. There are also signs of fire.
'We are cautious about placing names on shipwrecks that no longer bear a name or something like a bell with the ship's name on it,' maritime archaeologist James Delgado said in a statement.
'But the physical and forensic evidence powerfully suggests that this is Clotilda.'
The United States banned the importation of slaves in 1808, but smugglers kept traveling the Atlantic with wooden ships full of people in chains. Southern plantation owners needed workers for their cotton fields.
With Southern resentment of federal control at a fever pitch, Alabama plantation owner Timothy Meaher made a bet that he could bring a shipload of Africans across the ocean, historian Natalie S. Robertson has said.
The schooner Clotilda sailed from Mobile to western Africa, where it picked up captives and returned them to Alabama, evading authorities during a tortuous voyage.
'They were smuggling people as much for defiance as for sport,' Robertson said.
The schooner Clatilda became notorious as the last slave ship to ever dock in the country. The ship was believed to be 23 feet wide and 86 feet long and was burned after this final voyage
The Clotilda arrived in Mobile in 1860 and was quickly scuttled in delta waters north of Mobile Bay.
It was there that researchers worked to identify the shipwreck.
The Africans spent the next five years as slaves during the American civil war, freed only after the South had lost the conflict.
Unable to return home to Africa, about 30 of them used money earned working in fields, homes and vessels to purchase land from the Meaher family and settle in a community still known to this day as Africatown.
For more on this story, visit National Geographic.
THE CLOTILDA, ALSO KNOWN AS THE CLOTILDE: A BRIEF HISTORY
The Clotilda, a two-masted schooner, set out for Africa in 1859 on a bet by an Alabama steamboat captain and plantation owner, Timothy Meaher.
He wanted to show he could sneak slaves into the country despite federal troops stationed at two forts that guarded the mouth of Mobile Bay.
The ship's captain, William Foster, was armed with $9,000 in gold to purchase around 100 slaves and ended up delivering 110 captives to Mobile in 1860 - one year before the outbreak of the Civil War.
The Clotilda's voyage was planned by Timothy Meaher, a steamboat captain and plantation owner who wanted to show he could sneak slaves into the country
The ship was believed to be 23 feet wide and 86 feet long, though contemporary investigations assert the ship could be much longer.
The slave trade was abolished in 1807 by Thomas Jefferson, but continued illegally up until the abolition of slavery - in the North in 1863 and in the South in 1865.
The journey was the last known instance of a slave ship landing in the United States.
The captain took the ship up the delta and burned it. Historian Sylvianne Diouf notes that the ship was burned in an effort to destroy all evidence of its slaving history.
The pair decided to burn the ship in an effort to conceal the crime they had committed
Neither Meaher nor Foster were convicted of a crime, though they could have faced death if their plot had been uncovered by the US government. Captain Foster hid the slaves in part by picking up lumber at multiple stops on his route.
Spellings of the ship are alternately Clotilda and Clotilde. It is not exactly clear how the ship got its name, but there is a 'Saint Clotilde' who is also known as Clotilda. She was a Frankish queen in the 6th Century who is credited with helping spread Catholicism.
The ploy occurred the year before the outbreak of the Civil War. Pictured is Abraham Lincoln with General George B McClellan at his headquarters in October 1862
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