Clotilda: The Last Known Slave Ship to America and Its Legacy

The Clotilda, last known slave ship to the U.S., illegally smuggled 110 Africans in 1860, a significant event in transatlantic slave trade history.

Clotilda’s Historic Voyage

The notorious Clotilda remains the last documented slave ship that transported African captives to American soil.

This dark chapter of the transatlantic slave trade concluded with the illegal voyage of the Clotilda, an act surreptitiously orchestrated well after the importation of enslaved individuals was prohibited.

Final Transatlantic Slave Trade

The final transatlantic slave trade journey of the Clotilda occurred during the autumn of 1859 or on July 9, 1860, as it smuggled 110 men, women, and children from West Africa to the United States.

Despite the 1807 act banning this heinous trade, Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Alabama shipyard owner, wagered that he could evade the law.

Captain William Foster navigated the schooner from the Kingdom of Dahomey, present-day Benin, to Mobile Bay, hiding the evidence of his crime by scuttling the vessel upon the voyage’s completion.

Schooner’s Secret Mission

Under the command of Captain William Foster, the Clotilda’s illicit mission was to prove the capability of smuggling a captive African workforce to fuel the southern plantation economy secretly.

The operation directly opposed the legal standards of the time and was veiled in secrecy, with the ship’s fate left unknown for over a century.

Discovery of the Shipwreck

It wasn’t until a century and a half later that the ship’s final resting place was determined.

The sunken Clotilda was discovered in a remote part of the Mobile River by a team of archaeologists and divers.

Sonar technology aided the Alabama Historical Commission and the Slave Wrecks Project in pinpointing the shipwreck.

The discovery of well-preserved artifacts offered a tangible connection to the Middle Passage and the cruel reality of American slavery.

Africatown’s Legacy

Africatown's Legacy Clotilda: A ship arriving on Alabama's shores, carrying enslaved Africans in chains, surrounded by dense forest and a vibrant, bustling community

Africatown is not only a place but a testament to the resilience and solidarity of a community.

Its history offers insight into the journey of survivors from the last known illegally transported group of enslaved Africans to the U.S. aboard the Clotilda, and their effort to maintain their cultural identity.

Formation of Africatown

After the Civil War, the African survivors of the Clotilda established Africatown, located north of Mobile, Alabama.

They intended it to be a replication of their African homes, where they could preserve their cultural traditions and language.

Cudjo Lewis, also known as Kossola, emerged as a notable community leader and among the last-surviving Clotilda survivors, famously interviewed by Zora Neale Hurston.

Preservation Efforts

In recent years, efforts have been made to recognize and protect the historical significance of Africatown.

It is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the community has seen support for its preservation.

The new Africatown Heritage House is set to showcase artifacts and narratives.

Additionally, maritime archaeologists are engaged in projects to uncover sunken ships in Mobile Bay, which may further illuminate Africatown’s storied past.

Cultural Heritage and Tourism

Africatown’s history has become a focal point for cultural heritage and tourism.

The story of the Clotilda and the historic Africatown is brought to life through initiatives like the Dreams of Africa in Alabama exhibition.

The narratives of survivors such as Redoshi and Matilda McCrear, and the work of historians like Sylviane Diouf contribute to a deeper understanding of the community’s roots.

The National Museum of African American History and Culture also sheds light on the experience and descendants’ efforts in highlighting Africatown’s cultural resonance.