The Last Known Slave Ship Found: The Clotilda’s Discovery Sheds Light on America’s History of Slavery and Sparks Conversations of Reconciliation and Reparations

  • The Clotilda, the last known slave ship to transport enslaved Africans to America, was discovered at the bottom of an Alabama river in 2019, near the community of Africatown.
  • Descendants of the enslaved individuals who survived the journey have passed down their stories through generations, highlighting the history and ongoing impact of slavery on the African-American community.
  • Efforts have been made to revitalize Africatown and promote reconciliation, including meetings between the descendants of the ship’s owner and the Clotilda descendants, sparking larger conversations about reparations and acknowledgment of America’s legacy of slavery.

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In 2019, the discovery of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to transport captured Africans to America, was reported. The ship was found at the bottom of an Alabama river, not far from the community called Africatown, where some of the descendants of the enslaved Africans still live. The Clotilda arrived in Alabama in 1860, carrying 110 enslaved people. The descendants of these individuals have passed down their stories through generations. The Clotilda’s discovery has shed light on the history of slavery in America and the ongoing impact on the African-American community.

The Clotilda’s journey began when Timothy Meaher, a wealthy businessman, hired Captain William Foster to illegally smuggle enslaved Africans from West Africa to Mobile, Alabama. The captives were divided among Meaher and his associates when they arrived. Captain Foster claimed to have burned and sunk the Clotilda, but its exact location remained a mystery until 2018. Reporter Ben Raines discovered the wreckage using clues from Captain Foster’s journal.

The Clotilda descendants, such as Joycelyn Davis, Lorna Gail Woods, Thomas Griffin, Jeremy Ellis, Darron Patterson, and others, are direct descendants of the enslaved Africans who survived the journey. They trace their ancestry back to individuals like Oluale (later renamed Charlie Lewis), Kupollee, Cudjo Lewis (Kossula), and Lottie Dennison. These descendants have kept the stories of their ancestors alive and have sought reconciliation and recognition of their history.

The Clotilda’s wreckage, explored in 2020 by maritime archaeologist James Delgado and his team, revealed the intact cargo hold of a slave ship. The cargo hold was smaller than previously thought, and its conditions were described as horrific. Descendant Jay Haigler, a diver, experienced a spiritual connection with the ancestors during his dive in the cargo hold.

Efforts have been made to revitalize Africatown, including the opening of the Africatown Heritage House museum and the selling of land to the city of Mobile for community development. However, challenges remain, such as the presence of chemical plants and highways that have disrupted the once-thriving community. The descendants have called for land ownership and the removal of property markers that remind them of their ancestors’ enslavers.

In a historic meeting in July, descendants of Timothy Meaher, including Meg and Helen Meaher, met with the Clotilda descendants. While no financial commitments were made, discussions centered around land ownership, scholarships, and partnerships for community development. The Meahers expressed their commitment to reconciliation and acknowledged the hardship endured by the Clotilda descendants. They have begun removing property markers and are considering their next steps in supporting Africatown.

The meeting sparked larger conversations about reconciliation and reparations across the nation. Clotilda descendants believe it is essential to address the actions of the past and work towards healing and equality. They emphasize the need for an honest conversation and actions that can create change for the descendants impacted by slavery. The Clotilda discovery and subsequent discussions have brought attention to the ongoing legacy of slavery and the need for acknowledgment and redress in America.

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