In Alabama, commemoration set for 'last slave ship'

May 30, 2019

Credit Wikimedia

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — It's not clear yet what will be done with the wreckage of a 19th century schooner, discovered in the murky Mobile River, that is believed to be the last ship to bring enslaved people from Africa to the United States, but Mobile resident Jerry Ward knows what he'd like to see done.

"As much of it as possible should be reconstructed," said Ward, an African American man who was among those gathering at a community center in Mobile's Africatown community. There, experts prepared Thursday to release an archaeological report on the finding of the ship and the methods used to confirm the likelihood that it is indeed the Clotilda — used to illegally transport an estimated 110 enslaved Africans to the Alabama Gulf Coast in 1860.

The Alabama Historical Commission set the release of the report Thursday afternoon at a small community center in Africatown, where people freed after the Civil War, including survivors of the Clotilda's voyage, settled. Community members also planned a celebration of the discovery and a commemoration of the lives of those on the Clotilda and their descendants.

The commission said in a recent news release that interest in locating the remains of the Clotilda was renewed after a journalist reported that he believed he had located the ship last year. Even though the ship he found turned out not to be the Clotilda, it led to the commission's and other organizations' efforts to locate the Clotilda's wreckage.

A team of maritime archaeology experts conducted an assessment of a previously unsearched area of the Mobile River and historical research and an archaeological survey revealed up to two dozen 19th and 20th century vessels. One closely matched characteristics of the Clotilda and peer-reviewed findings concluded that the wreck is likely the Clotilda.

Officials have said they are working on a plan to preserve the site where the ship was located.

James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist who helped lead the team that verified the wreck as the Clotilda, recently told The Associated Press that the ship's remains are delicate but the potential for both research and inspiration are enormous.

Joycelyn Davis, a descendant of one of the Africans held captive aboard the ship, said she wants to somehow honor both the ship's human cargo and the hard work of them and their descendants in forming Africatown .

Ward, who said he lives near Africatown, said he knew nothing of the ship until recent news of its discovery. He hopes it can be salvaged and that efforts are made to educate people about its history. "To know where you're going, you've got to know where you come from," Ward said.

The commission said organizations involved in the research and survey efforts include the Black Heritage Council, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Slave Wrecks Project, Diving with a Purpose, SEARCH Inc. and the National Park Service.