Clotilda: Last American Slave Ship: Maritime archaeologists and historians go in search of the crucial component in the Atlantic Slave Trade: the slave ship. An armored, floating fortress operating for over four centuries, capturing and transporting over 12 million Africans, who were sold and forced to work in brutal conditions in the New World. By draining we reveal the cruel technology on-board, gain an insight into the horrific conditions, and ID the schooner Clotilda, a wreck in the Mobile River of Alabama that could be the last ever slave ship to bring Africans to American soil.
In July 1860, on a bet, 110 African captives came to Alabama on board the schooner Clotilda. For the first time, archaeologists will explore the sunken wreck of the last American slave ship.
Clotilda: Last American Slave Ship
The schooner Clotilda (often misspelled Clotilde) was the last known U.S. slave ship to bring captives from Africa to the United States, arriving at Mobile Bay, in autumn 1859 or July 9, 1860, with 110 kidnapped African children. The ship was a two-masted schooner, 86 feet (26 m) long with a beam of 23 ft (7.0 m).
U.S. involvement in the Atlantic slave trade had been banned by Congress through the Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves enacted on March 2, 1807 (effective January 1, 1808), but the practice continued illegally, especially through slave traders based in New York in the 1850s and early 1860. In the case of the Clotilda, the voyage’s sponsors were based in the South and planned to buy Africans in Whydah, Dahomey. After the voyage, the ship was burned and scuttled in Mobile Bay in an attempt to destroy the evidence.
After the Civil War, Cudjo Kazoola Lewis and thirty-one other formerly enslaved people founded Africatown on the north side of Mobile, Alabama. They were joined by other continental Africans and formed a community that continued to practice many of their West African traditions and Yoruba language for decades.
A spokesman for the community, Cudjo Lewis lived until 1935 and was one of the last survivors from the Clotilda. Redoshi, another captive on the Clotilda, was sold to a planter in Dallas County, Alabama, where she became known also as Sally Smith. She married, had a daughter, and lived to 1937 in Bogue Chitto. She was long thought to have been the last survivor of the Clotilda. Research published in 2020 indicated that another survivor, Matilda McCrear, lived until 1940.
Some 100 descendants of the Clotilda enslaved people still live in Africatown, and others are around the country. After World War II, the neighborhood was absorbed by the city of Mobile. A memorial bust of Lewis was placed in front of the historic Union Missionary Baptist Church. The Africatown historic district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012. In May 2019, the Alabama Historical Commission announced that remnants of a ship found along the Mobile River, near 12 Mile Island and just north of the Mobile Bay delta, were confirmed as the Clotilda. The wreck site was listed on the National Register in 2021