Wreckage of the Last U.S. Slave Ship Is Finally Identified in Alabama

Wreckage of the Last U.S. Slave Ship Is Finally Identified in Alabama

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After much searching, researchers have finally located the last U.S. slave ship, the Clotilda, at the bottom of the Mobile River in Alabama. The announcement comes one year after the publication of Zora Neale Hurston’s lost interview with a survivor of that ship, and just a month after a scholar discovered the last Clotilda survivor lived until 1937. It holds special significance for the residents of Africatown, Alabama, many of whom are descended from the Africans illegally trafficked on the Clotilda in 1860.

“It’s a wonderful discovery,” says Sylviane A. Diouf, a visiting scholar at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice and author of Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America. “This is the only one so far that has been found which came directly from Africa to the Americas with people on board.” (The recently-discovered São José was on its way to Brazil but crashed in South Africa near Cape Town.)

The discovery is also significant because the Clotilda is already the most well-documented slave ship story in the Americas. “If it had only been a ship without the story, then that’s interesting,” Diouf says. “But we have the entire story. So this is the first time that we have the entire story of what happened to the people who were on the ship and we have the ship as well.”

The research initiative that found the Clotilda was partly motivated by the discovery of another ship in January 2018 that some thought might have been the Clotilda. Afterward, the Alabama Historical Commission funded further efforts to find the the Clotilda, which a slave trader had burned and then sunk to the bottom of the river to hide the evidence of its illegal journey.

Excavators ended up combing through a section of the Mobile River that had never been dredged before. Among the many sunken ships there, they found one that historians could confidently say matched the description of the Clotilda.

The more than 100 African children, teenagers and young adults on the Clotilda arrived in Alabama just one year before the Civil War. When the U.S. officially abolished slavery in 1865, these young people had no means to travel back home, so some created a community called “African Town” in Alabama. The town helped preserve the stories of these people, some of whom carried their memories of capture and enslavement into the 20th century.

Unlike most slave ship survivors in history who remained largely undocumented, we have pictures and interviews of people who came over on the Clotilda. We even have film footage of the last known survivor, a woman born with the name “Redoshi” who went by “Sally Smith.” When Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Lewis, a founding member of African Town, in the 1920s and ‘30s, he could still remember the disorienting trauma of being captured and enslaved at age 19.

“We doan know why we be bring ’way from our country to work lak dis,” said Lewis, originally named “Kossula.” “Everybody lookee at us strange. We want to talk wid de udder colored folkses but dey doan know whut we say.”

It’s not clear what will happen to the Clotilda’s remains, but residents of Africatown hope to highlight it in a way that draws tourism and business. Africatown is home to a low-income community that has survived Hurricane Katrina and dangerous levels of industrial pollution, including from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. One option is to create a water memorial that people can visit, like the one commemorating the U.S.S. Arizona in Pearl Harbor.

“As a symbol, I think it’s crucial,” Diouf says of the discovery. “And I think for Africatown today, which is really a community that is struggling very much, it really puts Africatown on the map. And hopefully some good will come out of it.”

Last Known U.S. Slave Ship Discovered in Alabama River

The last slave ship researchers believe to arrive in the United States from Africa has been discovered after an investigation that took more than a year, says the Alabama Historical Commission. The remains of the ship, called Clotilda, were found at the bottom of the Mobile River in Alabama. It had operated illegally and was sunk in 1860 to hide evidence one year before the Civil War broke out.

“They had been waiting for this for a long time,” Alabama Historical Commission Chairman Walter Givhan told NPR. “They were jubilant.” Researchers had long searched for a ship that was reportedly scuttled in the waters around Mobile. From February to July 1860, the Clotilda conveyed 110 people from present-day Benin to the shores of Mobile, despite a U.S. law banning the import of slaves.

Exposed timbers of the Clotislda ship. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The Clotilda was “a wooden vessel…that carried 110 Africans to the United States in 1860, more than a half-century after the importation of slaves was declared illegal,” reported The New York Times. “The find, historians said, revives a story of unspeakable cruelty, but also the story of a people who somehow survived this indignity and many others like it.”

The last voyage of the Clotilda to Mobile Bay, Alabama, “represented one of the darkest eras of modern history,” Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, the commission’s executive director, said in a statement. “This new discovery brings the tragedy of slavery into focus while witnessing the triumph and resilience of the human spirit in overcoming the horrific crime that led to the establishment of Africatown,” Jones continued.

SEAC archeologist Clete Rooney records features of the Clotilda wreck using GPS. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

The Clotilda was discovered by the archaeology firm company Search Inc, which was recruited to help the cause by the Alabama Historical Commission, says the National Geographic Society, which provided input to this effort. Also participating was the National Park Service and the Slave Wrecks Project, a multinational group researching the slave trade.

“African-American history is also finding powerful new expression in the National Museum of African American History and Culture, which opened in Washington in 2016,” said The New York Times.

Maps of the wreck were made using GPS and a total station. SEAC Director David Morgan is at the exposed timbers of the wreck. Photo courtesy of National Park Service

After the Civil War, some survivors of the Clotilda formed a Mobile community that became known as Africatown. The announcement of the ship’s identity comes a year after another claim that the historic vessel had been discovered, which turned out to be premature. Researchers said the wreck identified on May 23, 2019, showed signs of burns, which bore out the evidence in archival records.

Diagram of a slave ship in 1854

“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,” team leader James Delgado said in a statement, “but the physical and forensic evidence powerfully suggests that this is Clotilda.”

Model of a slave ship. National Museum of American History. Photo by Kenneth Lu CC by 2.0

Accessing the wreck presented many risks and dangers, Delgado said. “There was pitch-black and fast-moving water, shattered timber, and visits from water moccasins and alligators,” he told NPR.

In Africatown, the former slaves preserved their language and folkways. Generations later, many residents of that area north of Mobile take pride in being descendants of Africatown’s original population. Alabama officials want the wreck connected to Africatown to best remember what took place.

“This is so huge. This could be one of the top tourist attractions in the world once everything is developed in that community,” state Sen. Vivian Davis Figures said to

Figures, who announced the discovery on the state Senate floor, said it was a moment she’d been waiting for since her first boat trip into the delta with researchers hunting for the vessel. “I knew it was out there,” she said. “It was like you could feel the souls of those people.”

Gulf Coast wreck could be ɼlotilda,' the last U.S. slave ship

MOBILE, Ala. — Researchers say remains of a wooden ship found embedded in mud in a river delta in southwestern Alabama may be the Clotilda, the last vessel to bring slaves to the United States nearly 160 years ago.

The wreck, which is normally covered by water in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, was recently exposed by unusually low tides and located by a reporter for who covers the environment and conservation on the coast, Ben Raines.

Experts told the ship remains could be the Clotilda, which was burned after delivering captives from what is now the west African nation of Benin to Mobile in 1860, based upon where Raines found it and the way it was built.

"You can definitely say maybe, and maybe even a little bit stronger, because the location is right, the construction seems to be right, from the proper time period, it appears to be burnt. So I'd say very compelling, for sure," said Greg Cook, a University of West Florida archaeologist who examined the wreck.

John Bratten, who works with Cook exploring shipwrecks, said there was "nothing here to say this isn't the Clotilda, and several things that say it might be."


News 'Shackles From the Deep' Explores Mystery of Sunken Slave Ship

One key element is the location of the wreck: It's essentially where the Clotilda's captain, William Foster, wrote that he burned and sank the ship in 1860, the year before the start of the Civil War. The wreck shows evidence of damage from fire, and the vessel was constructed using techniques of the mid-1800s, when the Clotilda was built.

President Thomas Jefferson signed a law in 1807 forbidding the importation of slaves, but slavery remained the linchpin of the Southern farm economy for decades more. Mobile was a prime port on the Gulf Coast with river access to the cotton-growing plantations upstream.

The Clotilda, a two-masted schooner, set out for Africa on a bet by an Alabama steamboat captain and plantation owner who wanted to show he could sneak slaves into the country despite federal troops stationed at forts that guarded the mouth of Mobile Bay.

The ship delivered 110 captives to Mobile in 1860 in the last known instance of a slave ship landing in the United States. The captain took the ship up the delta and burned it the people became slaves, and they and their descendants lived after the Civil War in an area near Mobile known as Africatown.

Most of the wreck lies in mud, and Cook said further study, including excavation, is needed to verify the ship is the Clotilda. Cook said the first step is to gather input from the Alabama Historical Commission, other state officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Ultimately, the goal would be to identify the wreck and perhaps put any artifacts on display.

"If it turns out to be the last slaver, it is going to be a very powerful site for many reasons. The structure of the vessel itself is not as important as its history, and the impact it is going to have on many, many people," he said.

GeoGarage blog

The schooner Clotilda smuggled African captives into the U.S.
in 1860, more than 50 years after importing slaves was outlawed.

The schooner Clotilda—the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans to America’s shores—has been discovered in a remote arm of Alabama’s Mobile River following an intensive yearlong search by marine archaeologists.

"Descendants of the Clotilda survivors have dreamed of this discovery for generations," says Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, executive director of the Alabama Historical Commission (AHC) and the State Historic Preservation Officer.
"We’re thrilled to announce that their dream has finally come true."

The captives who arrived aboard Clotilda were the last of an estimated 389,000 Africans delivered into bondage in mainland America from the early 1600s to 1860.
Thousands of vessels were involved in the transatlantic trade, but very few slave wrecks have ever been found.
(See how archaeologists pieced together clues to identify the long-lost slave ship.)

"The discovery of the Clotilda sheds new light on a lost chapter of American history," says Fredrik Hiebert, archaeologist-in-residence at the National Geographic Society, which supported the search.
"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."

Rare firsthand accounts left by the slaveholders as well as their victims offer a one-of-a-kind window into the Atlantic slave trade, says Sylviane Diouf, a noted historian of the African diaspora.

"It’s the best documented story of a slave voyage in the Western Hemisphere," says Diouf, whose 2007 book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama, chronicles the Clotilda’s saga.
"The captives were sketched, interviewed, even filmed," she says, referring to some who lived into the 20th century.
"The person who organized the trip talked about it. The captain of the ship wrote about it. So we have the story from several perspectives. I haven’t seen anything of that sort anywhere else."

In 1927 Cudjo Lewis, then one of the last living Clotilda survivors, shared his life story with anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston.
Her book Barracoon, finally published in 2018, includes Lewis's telling of the harrowing voyage aboard Clotilda.

Clotilda’s story began when Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Mobile landowner and shipbuilder, allegedly wagered several Northern businessmen a thousand dollars that he could smuggle a cargo of Africans into Mobile Bay under the nose of federal officials.

Importing slaves into the United States had been illegal since 1808, and southern plantation owners had seen prices in the domestic slave trade skyrocket.
Many, including Meaher, were advocating for reopening the trade.

In 1860, Clotilda smuggled West African captives into the U.S.
Routes and dates are taken from the account of the ship’s captain, William Foster.

Meaher chartered a sleek, swift schooner named Clotilda and enlisted its builder, Captain William Foster, to sail it to the notorious slave port of Ouidah in present-day Benin to buy captives.
Foster left West Africa with 110 young men, women, and children crowded into the schooner’s hold.
One girl reportedly died during the brutal six-week voyage.
Purchased for $9,000 in gold, the human cargo was worth more than 20 times that amount in 1860 Alabama.

After transferring the captives to a riverboat owned by Meaher’s brother, Foster burned the slaver to the waterline to hide their crime.
Clotilda kept her secrets over the decades, even as some deniers contended that the shameful episode never occurred.

After the Civil War ended and slavery was abolished, the Africans longed to return to their home in West Africa.
Lacking the means, they managed to buy small plots of land north of Mobile, where they formed their own tight-knit community that came to be known as Africatown.
There they made new lives for themselves but never lost their African identity.
Many of their descendants still live there today and grew up with stories of the famous ship that brought their ancestors to Alabama.
"If they find evidence of that ship, it's going to be big," descendant Lorna Woods predicted earlier this year.
"All Mama told us would be validated. It would do us a world of good."

Mary Elliott, a curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, agrees.
"There are many examples today—the Tulsa race riots of 1921, this story, even the Holocaust—where some people say it never happened.
Now, because of the archaeology, the archival research, the science combined with the collective memories of the community, it can't be refuted.
They are now connected to their ancestors in a tangible way, knowing this story is true." (Their ancestors survived slavery. Can their descendants save the town they built?)

The hunt for lost history

Several attempts to locate Clotilda’s remains have been made over the years, but the Mobile-Tensaw Delta is rife with sloughs, oxbows, and bayous, as well as scores of shipwrecks from more than three centuries of maritime activity.
Then in January 2018 Ben Raines, a local journalist, reported that he had discovered the remains of a large wooden ship during an abnormally low tide.
The AHC, which owns all abandoned ships in Alabama’s state waters, called in the archaeology firm Search, Inc., to investigate the hulk.

The vessel in question turned out to be another ship, but the false alarm focused national attention on the long-lost slaver.
The incident also prompted the AHC to fund further research in partnership with the National Geographic Society and Search, Inc.

Researchers combed through hundreds of original sources from the period and analyzed records of more than 2,000 ships that were operating in the Gulf of Mexico during the late 1850s.
They discovered that Clotilda was one of only five Gulf-built schooners then insured.
Registration documents provided detailed descriptions of the schooner, including its construction and dimensions.

"Clotilda was an atypical, custom-built vessel," says maritime archaeologist James Delgado of Search, Inc.
"There was only one Gulf-built schooner 86 feet long with a 23-foot beam and a six-foot, 11-inch hold, and that was Clotilda."

Records also noted that the schooner was built of southern yellow pine planking over white oak frames and was outfitted with a 13-foot-long centerboard that could be raised or lowered as needed to access shallow harbors.

Based on their research of possible locations, Delgado and Alabama state archaeologist Stacye Hathorn focused on a stretch of the Mobile River that had never been dredged.
Deploying divers and an array of devices—a magnetometer for detecting metal objects, a side-scan sonar for locating structures on and above the river bottom, and a sub-bottom profiler for detecting objects buried beneath the mucky riverbed—they discovered a veritable graveyard of sunken ships.

Prior to the state survey, Raines continued his own search for the wreck, enlisting researchers from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) to map the contours of the riverbed and detect any submerged objects.
The USM survey revealed the presence of a wooden wreck bearing some hallmarks of a 19th-century vessel.
"The dimensions of the ship have not been determined yet,” Raines reported in June 2018.
“It also remains unclear what type of vessel was found.
Answering those questions will take a more thorough and invasive examination, precisely the expertise of Search, Inc."

Delgado’s team easily eliminated most of the potential wrecks: wrong size, metal hull, wrong type of wood.
But the vessel Raines and the USM survey had highlighted stood out from the rest.
Over the next ten months, Delgado’s team analyzed the sunken vessel’s design and dimensions, the type of wood and metal used in its construction, and evidence that it had burned.
It "matched everything on record about Clotilda," Delgado said.

Samples of wood recovered from Target 5 are white oak and southern yellow pine from the Gulf coast.
The archaeologists also found the remains of a centerboard of the correct size.

Metal fasteners from its hull are made of hand-forged pig iron, the same type known to have been used on Clotilda.
And there’s evidence that the hull was originally sheathed with copper, as was then common practice for oceangoing merchant vessels.

No nameplate or other inscribed artifacts conclusively identified the wreck, Delgado says, "but looking at the various pieces of evidence, you can reach a point beyond reasonable doubt."

A national slave ship memorial?

The wreck of Clotilda now carries the dreams of Africatown, which has suffered from declining population, poverty, and a host of environmental insults from heavy industries that surround the community.
Residents hope that the wreck will generate tourism and bring businesses and employment back to their streets.
Some have even suggested it be raised and put on display.

The community was recently awarded nearly $3.6 million from the BP Deepwater Horizon legal settlement to rebuild a visitor center destroyed in 2005 by Hurricane Katrina.
But what’s left of the burned-out wreck is in very poor condition, says Delgado.
Restoring it would cost many millions of dollars.

But a national slave ship memorial—akin to the watery grave of the U.S.S.
Arizona in Pearl Harbor—might be an option.
There visitors could reflect on the horrors of the slave trade and be reminded of Africa’s enormous contribution to the making of America.
Read about 13 museums and monuments that connect to important moments in African-American history.)

"We are still living in the wake of slavery," says Paul Gardullo, director of the Center for the Study of Global Slavery at the National Museum of African American History and Culture and a member of the Slave Wrecks Project that was involved in the search for Clotilda.
“We continue to be confronted by slavery.
It keeps popping up because we haven’t dealt with this past.
If we do our work right, we have an opportunity not just to reconcile, but to make some real change.”

Finding the last ship known to have brought enslaved Africans to America and the descendants of its survivors

The Clotilda was burned and sunk in an Alabama River after bringing 110 imprisoned people across the Atlantic in 1860. Two years ago, its remains were found. Anderson Cooper reports on the discovery of the wreck and the nearby community with descendants of the enslaved aboard the ship.

  • 2020 Nov 29
  • Correspondent Anderson Cooper
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This video is available on Paramount+

Two years ago, a sunken ship was found in the bottom of an Alabama river. It turned out to be the long lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave ship known to have brought captured Africans to America in 1860. At least 12 million Africans were shipped to the Americas, in the more than 350 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but as you'll hear tonight, the journey of the 110 captive men, women, and children brought to Alabama on the Clotilda, is one of the best-documented slave voyages in history. The names of those enslaved Africans, and their story, has been passed down through the generations by their descendants, some of whom still live just a few miles from where the ship was found in a community called Africatown.

The muddy Alabama river where the Clotilda was found

For 160 years this muddy stretch of the Mobile River has covered up a crime. In July 1860 the Clotilda was towed here, under cover of darkness. Imprisoned in its cramped cargo hold, 110 enslaved Africans.

Joyceyln Davis: I just imagined myself being on that ship just listening to the waves and the water, and just not knowing where you were going.

Joyceyln Davis, Lorna Gail Woods, and Thomas Griffin are direct descendants of this African man, Oluale. Enslaved in Alabama, his owner changed his name to Charlie Lewis. Pollee Allen, whose African name was Kupollee, was the ancestor of Jeremy Ellis and Darron Patterson.

Darron Patterson: No clothes. Eating where they defecated. Only allowed outta the cargo hold for one day a week for two months. How many people do you, do we know now that could've survived something like that, without losing their mind?

Descendants of some of the enslaved aboard the Clotilda

There are no photographs of Pat Frazier's great-great-grandmother, Lottie Dennison, but Caprinxia Wallace and her mother, Cassandra, have a surprising number of pictures of their ancestor, Kossula, who's owner called him Cudjo Lewis.

Anderson Cooper: What does it feel like to be able to know where you come from? To know the person who came here first?

Caprinxia Wallace: It's empowering, very. Like, growing up my mom made sure she told me all the stories that her dad told her about Cudjo.

Anderson Cooper: Cassandra, that was important to you to pass that knowledge along?

Cassandra Wallace: Very important, yes. My dad sat us down and he would make us repeat Kossulu, Clotilda, Cudjo Lewis.

Thomas Griffin: It has historical importance, as well as a story that needs to be told.

The story of the Clotilda began in 1860, when Timothy Meaher, a wealthy businessman, hired Captain William Foster to illegally smuggle a ship load of captive Africans from the Kingdom of Dahomey, in West Africa, to Mobile, Alabama. Slavery was still legal in the southern United States, but importing new slaves into America had been outlawed in 1808.

In his journal, Captain Foster described purchasing the captives using "$9,000 in gold and merchandise."

As this replica shows, the enslaved Africans were locked, naked in the cargo hold of the Clotilda for two sickening months. When they arrived in Mobile, they were handed over to Timothy Meaher and several others. Captain Foster claimed he then burned and sank the Clotilda, but exactly where remained a mystery.

Until 2018, when a local reporter, Ben Raines, found the Clotilda in about 20 feet of water not far from Mobile. He'd been searching for seven months, following clues in Captain Foster's journal.

The exact location hasn't been made public for fear someone might vandalize the ship. But last February the Alabama Historical Commission gave maritime archeologist James Delgado, who helped verify the wreck, permission to take us there.

Anderson Cooper: So the Clotilda came up this way?

James Delgado: Straight up here, practically in a straight line after they dropped off the people, and then on one side of the bank, set her on fire and sank her.

Anderson Cooper: So he was trying to destroy evidence of a crime?

The bow of the Clotilda is not far from the surface, but the water's so muddy, the only way to see it is with a sonar device.

MAN: Sonar is on. Zero pressure. Good to drop.

Anderson Cooper: So we're almost over it now?

James Delgado: Yeah, we're coming right up on it.

MAN: So, that's the bow right there?

Anderson Cooper: That's it right there?

Anderson Cooper: Oh, you can see it like that?

Anderson Cooper: You can see it totally clearly. I mean, that's the ship?

James Delgado: Yes. Yeah, that's Clotilda.

The remains of the Clotilda seen on sonar.

On sonar, the bow is clearly defined, as are both sides of the hull. The ship is 86 feet long, but the back of it, the stern, is buried deep in mud. Those two horizontal lines are likely the walls of the cargo hold where the enslaved Africans had been packed tightly together, on the voyage from West Africa.

Anderson Cooper: So the hold where people were held, how big was that?

James Delgado: In terms of where people could actually fit, five feet by about 20 feet.

Anderson Cooper: Wait a minute. It was only five feet high? So people could barely stand up in this hold?

Diving on the wreck is difficult. Underwater there is zero visibility. You can't even see the ship, Delgado's team has only felt it with their hands. They call it "archeology by Braille."

This is the only image our camera could pick up -- a plank of wood covered with what looks like barnacles.

Delgado and state archeologist Stacye Hathorn, showed us some of the artifacts they retrieved. This plank of wood is likely from the hull of the ship. And this iron bolt, with wood attached, shows evidence of fire damage.

Stacye Hathorn: You don't see the grain of the wood.

James Delgado: It basically makes a briquette.

Anderson Cooper: So this is evidence clearly of, that they tried to burn the ship?

James Delgado and Stacye Hathorn speak with correspondent Anderson Cooper

The enslaved Africans were taken off the ship before it sank, but Delgado says there could still be DNA from some of them in the wreck.

James Delgado: You will find human hair. You can find nail clippings. Somebody may have lost a tooth--

Anderson Cooper: You could still find human hair in the wreck of the Clotilda?

The state of Alabama has set aside a million dollars for further excavation to determine if the Clotilda can ever be raised from the riverbed. The ship may be too damaged or the effort too expensive.

Mary Elliott: I think what's extremely important for folks to understand is that &ndash that there was a concerted effort to hide these things that were done.

Mary Elliott

Mary Elliott oversees the collection of slavery artifacts at the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

Mary Elliott: It's important that we found the remnants of this ship, because it, for African Americans, it's their piece of the true cross their touchstone to say, "We've been telling you for years. And here's the proof."

Remarkably, many of the descendants still live just a few miles from where the Clotilda was discovered. This is Africatown. Founded around 1868, three years after emancipation, by 30 of the Africans brought on the Clotilda.

Joycelyn Davis has organized festivals to honor Africatown's founders. One of whom was her great great great grandfather, Charlie Lewis. Last February she took us to the street he lived on, called Lewis Quarters.

Correspondent Anderson Cooper and Joycelyn Davis

Anderson Cooper: So pretty much everyone on this street can trace their lineage back to Charlie Lewis--

Joyceyln Davis: Yes. Everyone here is related.

Lewis and some of the others got jobs at a nearby sawmill, owned by Timothy Meaher, the same man responsible for enslaving them.

Joyceyln Davis: I mean, they worked for, like, a dollar a day. And so they saved up their money to buy land.

Cudjo Lewis also worked at the Meaher's sawmill. This rare film shows him in 1928, by then he was in his 80's and one of the Clotilda's last living survivors.

He helped found this church in Africatown. The same church his descendants still attend today.

Anderson Cooper: After emancipation, it seemed so unlikely that a group of freed slaves could pool their resources and build a community. I mean, that's an extraordinary thing.

Mary Elliott: There's this thing we say about making a way out of no way.

Anderson Cooper: Making a way out of no way?

Mary Elliott: When these folks were forced over here from the continent of Africa they didn't come with empty heads. They came with empty hands. So they found a way to make a way. And they relied on each other. And they were resilient.

Africatown is the only surviving community in America founded by Africans and over the decades it prospered. There was a business district. The first Black school in Mobile, and by the 1960s, 12,000 people lived here.

Lorna Gail Woods: They built a city within a city. And that's what we can be proud of.

Cassandra Wallace: We had a gas station. We had a grocery store.

Darron Patterson: Drive in.

Cassandra Wallace: . post office, all that was a booming area of Black-owned business.

But today those Black-owned businesses are gone. An interstate highway was built through the middle of Africatown in the early 1990s, and the small clusters of remaining homes are surrounded by factories and chemical plants. Fewer than 2000 people still live here.

The Smithsonian's Mary Elliott took us to Africatown's cemetery, where some of the Clotilda's survivors and generations of their descendants are buried.

Anderson Cooper: No matter where you go in Africatown, you can hear factories and industry and the highway.

Mary Elliott: There is this constant buzz. It's a buzz you hear all the time, day and night. And it's a constant reminder of the breakup of this community.

The descendants we spoke with hope the discovery of the Clotilda will lead to the revitalization of Africatown and they'd like the descendants of Timothy Meaher, the man who enslaved their ancestors, to get involved.

According to tax records, Meaher's descendants still own an estimated 14% of the land in historic Africatown, their name is on nearby street signs and property markers. Court filings indicate their real estate and timber businesses are worth an estimated $36 million.

But so far the descendants we spoke with say no one from the Meaher family has been willing to meet.

Darron Patterson: I don't think it's something that people want to remember.

Caprinxia Wallace: Because they have to acknowledge that they benefit from it today.

Pat Frazier: That they benefited, that's it. That they benefited. And they don't want to acknowledge that.

Anderson Cooper: People don't want to look back and acknowledge it.

Pat Frazier: They don't want to acknowledge that that's how part of their wealth was derived.

Darron Patterson: Big part--

Pat Frazier: And that, on the backs of those people.

Anderson Cooper: What would you want to say to them? I mean, if-- if they were willing to sit down and have, you know, have a coffee with you?

Jeremy Ellis: We would first need to acknowledge what was done in the past. And then there's an accountability piece, that your family, for this many years, five years, owned my ancestors. And then the third piece would be, how do we partner together with, in Africatown?

Pat Frazier: I don't want to receive anything personally. However, there's a need for a lot of development in that community.

We reached out to four members of the Meaher family, all either declined or didn't respond to our request for an interview.

Mike Foster

One man who did want to meet the descendants is Mike Foster. He's a 73-year-old Air Force veteran from Montana. While researching his geneology last year, Mike Foster discovered he is the distant cousin of William Foster, the captain of the Clotilda.

Anderson Cooper: Had you heard of the last slave ship?

Anderson Cooper: What did you think when you heard it?

Mike Foster: I wasn't happy about it. It was, it was very distressing.

Anderson Cooper: Do you feel some guilt?

Mike Foster: No, I didn't feel any guilt. I didn't do it. But I could apologize for it.

And last February, before the pandemic, that's exactly what he did.

Lorna Gail Woods: Yeah, over 160 years have passed, and we finally--

Mike Foster: Hundred and sixty years.

Joyceyln Davis: This is a powerful moment. This is a powerful moment.

Mike Foster: So I'm here to say I'm sorry.

Lorna Gail Woods: Thank you.

In an effort to attract tourism to Africatown, the state of Alabama plans to build a welcome center here, but the descendants we spoke with hope more can be done to restore and rebuild this historic Black community and honor the African men and women who founded it.

Pat Frazier: So, I always think, my God, such strong people, so capable, achieved so much, and started with so little.

Darron Patterson: We have to do something to make sure that the legacy of those people in that cargo hold never ever is forgotten. Because they are the reason that we're even here.

Produced by Denise Schrier Cetta. Associate producer, Katie Brennan. Broadcast associate, Annabelle Hanflig. Edited by Patrick Lee.

Anderson Cooper, anchor of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," has contributed to 60 Minutes since 2006. His exceptional reporting on big news events has earned Cooper a reputation as one of television's pre-eminent newsmen.

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(CNN) — In a remote river delta on Alabama’s Gulf coast, partially hidden under water and mud, may be the answer to a mystery that has baffled scholars for more than 150 years.

If experts’ suspicions are correct, it’s the long-lost wreck of the Clotilda — the last known ship to bring enslaved Africans into the United States.

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In a remote river delta on Alabama’s Gulf coast, partially hidden under water and mud, may be the answer to a mystery that has baffled scholars for more than 150 years.

Its precise location has eluded archaeologists and historians since the vessel was burned in 1860 by slavers seeking to hide evidence of their illegal trafficking. But after the wreck was recently exposed by unusually low tides, reporter Ben Raines discovered its remains near Mobile and has taken the first step towards verifying its authenticity.

“We did not see anything on the site that would say it’s not the Clotilda,” said Gregory D. Cook, assistant professor of maritime archaeology at the University of West Florida. Raines brought Cook and several other experts to examine the wreck and all agreed that its remains match historical records of the ship.

“We think it’s a very compelling possibility that the wreck could be the Clotilda, but we cannot positively identify it at this point,” Cook told CNN.

Still, historians are excited at the prospect.

“It’s frankly of world historical importance,” said John Sledge, an architectural historian with the city of Mobile. “It’s something that’s been of great interest, both locally and nationally … going back more than a century.”

A dark journey

The Clotilda had a brief and wretched history.

By the mid-1800s importing slaves into the US had long been illegal, although some smugglers defied the law, especially in the South.

According to historical accounts, the Clotilda made its illicit journey after Timothy Meaher, a local plantation owner, made a bet that he could sneak slaves past federal officials and into the country.

He bought the two-masted schooner and paid a captain, William Foster, to sail it to West Africa and collect 110 slaves from what is now Benin. Foster ferried them back across the Atlantic to Mobile, where he smuggled the ship past authorities in 1860 under cover of darkness.

The captain then navigated the Clotilda up the Spanish River, transferred the slaves to a riverboat and burned the ship, sinking it.

Many of the ship’s slaves, freed five years later at the end of the Civil War, settled a community north of downtown Mobile that became known as Africatown. Some descendants of the original slaves still live in the area.

“Any tangible evidence related to the period of slavery in the United States carries a powerful meaning for many people, so if this was the last ship to transport enslaved Africans to this country, that would be a pretty huge discovery symbolically,” said Cook, the archaeology professor.

Cook said that if the wreck is proven to be the Clotilda, the descendants of its slaves would be consulted on decisions about its future.

“This would have obvious impacts on them, and we would work with them to get a sense of their feelings, what they would like to see occur with the site, and have them involved in the research as much as they would like to be,” he said.

Digging for proof

The wreck is partially buried and not much to look at — a long wooden spine with some planks and iron spikes lying nearby. It’s accessible only by boat and lies alongside a marshy island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, some 12 miles north of Mobile.

It sat underwater before being exposed by extreme low tides caused by the wintry “bomb cyclone” storm system that hammered the Eastern US this winter.

Preliminary evidence suggests it could be the Clotilda. Cook said its type of hull construction matches ships built in the mid-19th century, and the remains of the hull show signs of being burned. And according to Raines its location in the delta is consistent with the one described in Foster’s journals. (He’s not revealing the wreck’s precise location to preserve its integrity and discourage looters.)

For proof, however, archaeologists would likely need to excavate the wreck and examine the contents of its hold for such items as ceramics, which could help pinpoint the time period, or shackles, which could help confirm its use as a slave ship.

Any digging would require state and possibly federal permits.

“We just won’t know until we investigate,” Cook said.

Sledge, the Mobile historian, hopes confirming the ship’s identity will help bring some closure to descendants of its Africatown neighborhood.

“The Clotilda has been the missing piece of that story,” he said.

Final survivor of last American slave ship revealed

Dr. Hannah Durkin of the U.K.'s University of Newcastle has determined the identity of the last survivor of the last American slave ship. Redoshi, given the slave name 'Sally Smith,' was kidnapped from West Africa at age 12 and, after spending five years as a slave, died in Alabama in 1937 at the age of 89 or 90. Previously, the last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade was thought to be Oluale Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis, who died in 1935.

After painstaking research, the final survivor of the last American slave ship has been identified.

An expert from the U.K.’s University of Newcastle carefully pieced together the life of Redoshi, from her kidnapping as a child in West Africa, to her enslavement in Alabama and, eventually, her freedom.

Redoshi was one of 116 children and young people taken from West Africa in 1860 on board the Clotilda, the last American slave ship, according to Dr. Hannah Durkin, lecturer in Literature and Film in Newcastle University’s School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics. Given the slave name Sally Smith, Redoshi died in Alabama in 1937.

Previously, the last survivor of the Clotilda was thought to be Oluale Kossola, also known as Cudjo Lewis, who died in 1935.

Redoshi, described as "Aunt Sally Smith," appeared briefly in a 1930s public information film entitled “the Negro Farmer” that was produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (U.S. Department of Agriculture/National Archives)

The BBC reports that Redoshi, who was kidnapped at age 12, was about 89 or 90 at the time of her death in Selma, Alabama.

Durkin’s research sheds new light on Redoshi’s life. After arriving in the U.S., she was purchased by Washington Smith, owner of the Bogue Chitto plantation in Dallas County, Alabama and a founder of the Bank of Selma.

A slave for nearly 5 years, Redoshi worked both in the Bogue Chitto plantation house and in the fields, according to the research. She married a fellow slave known as William or Billy, whom she had been kidnapped with. Her husband died in the 1910s or 1920s.

African slaves being taken on board ship bound for USA - engraving 1881. (Photo by Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis via Getty Images)

After her emancipation, Redoshi continued to live on the Bogue Chitto plantation with her daughter.

Durkin found out about Redoshi while conducting other research. The former slave was mentioned in the writings of famous author Zora Neale Hurston Durkin also found references in other texts, including a newspaper article and a memoir by civil rights activist Amelia Boynton Robinson. In her book, Boynton Robinson recalls Redoshi, writing that she was forced to become a child bride on the Clotilda.

Redoshi also appears briefly in a 1930s public information film entitled “the Negro Farmer” that was produced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the film, she is described as “Aunt Sally Smith, born in Africa and long past her 110th year when she died in 1937.” Durkin believes that this description of Redoshi’s age is likely an exaggeration.

Positioning of slaves on a slave ship, 1786, illustration from Abolition of the slavetrade, 1808, London. Slavery, England, 18th century. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Her research into Redoshi’s life is published in the journal Slavery and Abolition.

“The discovery increases our understanding of the slave trade because it gives meaningful voice to a female survivor for the first time,” Dr. Durkin told Fox News, via email. “We can now begin to reflect on what transatlantic slavery and its aftermath was like for an individual woman.”

Part of the triangular trade in slaves and goods between Africa, the Americas and Europe, the transatlantic transport of slaves is known as the Middle Passage. Between the 16th and the 19th centuries, around 12 million African slaves were shipped to the Americas, according to the Boston African American National Historical Site. About 15 percent of slaves died during the horrific voyages, which lasted around 80 days.

A detail view of a length of chain in the museum aboard the Tall ship Kaskelot, a replica of the 18th century wooden square rigger ship 'The Zong', on the River Thames by Tower Bridge on March 29, 2007 in London, England. (Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)

“What is shocking is that we now know that the trauma of the Middle Passage as a lived experience did not end until 1937, so only really 80 years ago,” Durkin told Fox News.

Durkin notes that, while Redoshi lived through tremendous trauma and separation, there is a sense of pride in the texts that describe her. “Her resistance, either through her effort to own her own land in America or in smaller acts like keeping her West African beliefs alive, taking care in her appearance and her home and the joy she took in meeting a fellow African in the 1930s, help to show who she was,” she explained in a statement.

Last year, it was reported that the remains of the Clotilda may have been found in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, Alabama. The notorious ship was set ablaze after delivering its captive cargo from Benin in West Africa to Mobile. Subsequent analysis, however, revealed that the wreckage does not belong to the Clotilda.

African slaves working the winch on a ship, watercolour by Edouard Riou (1833-1900). Paris, Musée National Des Arts Africains Et Oceaniens (Art Museum) (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Archaeologists in Delaware recently discovered the gravestone of a Civil War soldier that may provide a vital clue in uncovering a long-lost African-American cemetery.

Experts working at a property near Frankford, Sussex County, found the headstone bearing the name “C.S. Hall” and the details “Co. K, 32nd U.S.C.T.” This refers to Company K of the 32nd U.S. Colored Troops, which was a designation for African-American soldiers, according to Delaware’s Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs.

The site is known to the local community as containing the remains of African-Americans that lived in the area, officials say. In February, officials said that the remains of slaves have not yet been confirmed at the site, either through archaeological excavation or analysis of historical records.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

Clotilda wreckage discovered in Alabama is the last known ship to bring slaves to America

The Alabama Historical Commission confirmed Wednesday it had discovered the wreckage of the Clotilda, the last known ship to bring slaves to America. Remnants of the Clotilda was discovered in in a previously unexplored area of the Mobile River.

Researchers spent a year working to confirm the vessel's identity. Their findings were "independently reviewed and agreed upon by an international suite of leading authorities," the Alabama Historical Commission said in a press release.

"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, but the physical and forensic evidence powerfully suggests that this is Clotilda," said maritime archeologist Dr. James Delgado, who led the project.

Delgado worked with the Alabama Historical Commission and multiple groups, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, National Park Services, and SEARCH, INC, an archeology and cultural resource company. The search for the ship's wreckage has gone on for years, and previous claims that it had been found were later disproven.

The Clotilda sailed for less than half a year in 1860 but illegally transported 110 enslaved people from Benin, Africa to Mobile, Alabama &mdash 52 years after the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves was implemented.

Federal authorities were tipped off about the ship, leading to its co-conspirators, Timothy Meaher and Captain William Foster, to offload the Clotilda's cargo to a riverboat. They then burned the Clotilda and set it adrift. Slaves who survived the voyage remained indentured until the end of the Civil War in 1865.

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A group of freed slaves who were forcibly transported on the Clotilda later acquired land and created the Africatown community near the Mobile River.

"Finding the Clotilda represents the final nautical bookend to one of the most horrific periods in American and world history. It is my hope that this discovery brings a comforting peace to the Africatown descendants and begins a process of genuine community and memory restoration," Kamau Sadiki, a member of the Slave Wrecks Project and peer review team that confirmed the identity of the Clotilda, said in a press release.

The groups responsible for discovering the wreckage of the Clotilda will release a full archeological report Thursday, May 30.

First published on May 22, 2019 / 11:00 PM

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

April Siese is a social media producer for CBS News, specializing in breaking news.

Wreckage of the Last U.S. Slave Ship Is Finally Identified in Alabama - HISTORY

Descendants of enslaved Africans on last known slave ship imagine the terrible journey

The Clotilda was burned and sunk in an Alabama River after bringing 110 imprisoned people across the Atlantic in 1860. Two years ago, its remains were found. Anderson Cooper reports on the discovery of the wreck and the nearby community with descendants of the enslaved aboard the ship.

Two years ago, a sunken ship was found in the bottom of an Alabama river. It turned out to be the long lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave ship known to have brought captured Africans to America in 1860. At least 12 million Africans were shipped to the Americas, in the more than 350 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but as you’ll hear tonight, the journey of the 110 captive men, women, and children brought to Alabama on the Clotilda, is one of the best-documented slave voyages in history. The names of those enslaved Africans, and their story, has been passed down through the generations by their descendants, some of whom still live just a few miles from where the ship was found in a community called Africatown.

For 160 years this muddy stretch of the Mobile River has covered up a crime. In July 1860 the Clotilda was towed here, under cover of darkness. Imprisoned in its cramped cargo hold, 110 enslaved Africans.

Joyceyln Davis, Lorna Gail Woods, and Thomas Griffin are direct descendants of this African man, Oluale. Enslaved in Alabama, his owner changed his name to Charlie Lewis.

Joyceyln Davis: I just imagined myself being on that ship just listening to the waves and the water, and just not knowing where you were going.

Joyceyln Davis, Lorna Gail Woods, and Thomas Griffin are direct descendants of this African man, Oluale. Enslaved in Alabama, his owner changed his name to Charlie Lewis. Pollee Allen, whose African name was Kupollee, was the ancestor of Jeremy Ellis and Darron Patterson.

Darron Patterson: No clothes. Eating where they defecated. Only allowed outta the cargo hold for one day a week for two months. How many people do you, do we know now that could’ve survived something like that, without losing their mind? To read more to go the link below:

Wreck of last known slave ship – found in Alabama

No one claims ownership of last slave ship 'Clotilda'

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Alabama’s state historical agency apparently will retain control of the last U.S. slave ship, the Clotilda, after no one else laid claim to the wreckage.

Friday was the deadline under federal court rules for any potential owners to request control of wreckage of the wooden schooner, which was scuttled and burned near Mobile after illegally bringing about 110 captives to Alabama from west Africa in 1860.

Because no one else sought the ship’s remains, the state can now move forward in federal court to take permanent possession, Andi Martin, a spokeswoman for the Alabama Historical Commission, said Monday. The agency already has temporary hold on an artifact from the wreck.

Researchers identified the wreckage of the ship earlier this year north of Mobile. It’s unclear how much the remains may be worth, but they could be priceless given the ship’s historical importance.

A wealthy Mobile businessman, Timothy Meaher, financed the Clotilda’s lone slave-trading trip after betting he could import Africans despite a ban enacted decades earlier, historical accounts show.

Officials say they’re unsure how much of the Clotilda remains, but they believe at least some of the hull could be intact in the muddy bottom of the Mobile River near an island. It’s also unclear what might be done with the wreckage or whether it can be raised.

The two-masted, 86-foot-long (26.2-meter-long) merchant ship was constructed and operated by William Foster, an antebellum captain on the coast. It was purchased before the trip to Africa by Meaher, who owned steamships, a sawmill and land in Mobile.

Meaher outfitted the ship for the voyage to Africa and provided money to purchase the Africans, according to an investigative report released by the state after the ship’s discovery.

The state’s report indicated Meaher used copper to sheath the wooden hull before the journey, and his son Augustine Meaher later claimed metal that remained on the ship after the scuttling was worth $100,000. Other accounts claim family members dynamited the ship’s hull for the metal as late as the 1950s.

Descendants of Meaher, who remain among Mobile’s most prominent families, have not commented publicly on the discovery and did not mount a claim for the Clotilda’s wreckage.

Freed after the Civil War, the Africans settled near Mobile in a community called Africatown, USA , which their descendants remain.

Wreck of last known slave ship in the US may have been found

A year before the American civil war, an Alabama businessman set out to win a bet with friends. The international slave trade had been outlawed for decades, but he wagered he could smuggle slaves from Africa to the United States without being caught.

To prove it could be done, the businessman, Timothy Meaher, bought an 86-foot-long sailboat, the Clotilda, and hired its builder to captain a trek to West Africa. Under the cover of night in July 1860, the Clotilda returned to the waters off Alabama with 110 slaves, carefully navigating the tributaries around Mobile to evade authorities.

But a few miles north of Mobile, the captain and its crew grew concerned that the authorities were on their trail. They unloaded the slaves and set the boat on fire in the muddy banks of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the evidence of their illicit voyage, and the last known American slave ship, never to be found.

Until now. A reporter in Alabama said in an article published on Tuesday that he may have found the wreckage on the shore of a swampy island in the delta, thanks to the same weather system that produced a winter “bomb cyclone” weeks ago. The conditions caused extremely low tides in the area, allowing the boat to reveal itself: charred beams forming the shape of a vessel with almost the exact dimensions of the Clotilda.

“That’s why I went looking when I did. You would not have been able to see it on a normal low tide, it would have all been under water,” said the reporter, Ben Raines of Raines, an investigative reporter, is the son of Howell Raines, a former executive editor of the New York Times.

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While the wreckage has not been officially identified as the Clotilda, Raines recently took a shipwright expert and a team of archaeologists to survey it. What’s left of the boat – blackened beams and timber, threadless bolts and iron drifts – dates its construction to same period of the Clotilda, they said.

‘Very compelling’

“The location is right, the construction seems to be right, from the proper time period, it appears to be burnt,” Gregory D Cook, one of the archaeologists who visited the site, told “So I’d say very compelling, for sure.”

The story of the Clotilda has held a significant place in the history of slavery in the United States, which abolished it in 1865. It was also influential in the history of Alabama, where the slaves brought over on the Clotilda settled, creating what became known as Africatown in Mobile, after emancipation.

Since Meaher boasted in a newspaper article in 1890 about his wicked scheme and the fate of the Clotilda, people have searched the waters, islands and shores off Mobile for signs of its remains. Raines wrote that he believed previous explorers looked near the site he found but never exactly there.

The investigation was sparked in September when Raines asked a friend for thoughts on what he should pursue next. The friend suggested he try to find the Clotilda. And so he did. “What a tale – and such a wholly American tale,” Raines said on Wednesday. “All the good, the bad, and the ugly that we could have produced, all wrapped up in one event.”

Captain’s journal

Raines said in the article that he based his subsequent search on the 1890 newspaper article, the apparent notes by the reporter who wrote it and the journal of Clotilda’s captain, William Foster. There were several major clues that guided Raines, who benefited from his experience as a nature guide in the area. The journal mentions that the slaves were transferred to another boat near 12 Mile Island, where Foster said the Clotilda was set on fire.

During high tide, water covers any sign of the wreckage. But Raines said he set out on a boat to find the wreckage during especially low tides brought on by a large weather system that swept the country this month and eventually produced large snowfall in some parts of the Northeast.

“I think finding the Clotilda would be a fitting capstone for both Mobile’s slaving history and the war that finally ended the practice,” Raines wrote in the article, adding, “It is easy, standing in the wintertime gloom of these Alabama swamps, to imagine that old ghosts haunt these bayous.” – New York Times

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