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Report: Gulf Coast wreck could be last US slave ship

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.

Posted: Jan 25, 2018 6:55 AM

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) — 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 Al.com who covers the environment and conservation on the coast, Ben Raines.

Experts told Al.com 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."

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.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 484675

Reported Deaths: 9480
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison33151493
Hinds31184589
DeSoto30803365
Jackson23735349
Rankin21390373
Lee14963221
Madison14206272
Jones13430227
Forrest13199241
Lauderdale11623307
Lowndes10501176
Lamar10258130
Pearl River9151221
Lafayette8268137
Hancock7534113
Washington7144152
Oktibbeha6989124
Monroe6533167
Neshoba6489201
Warren6486166
Pontotoc632993
Panola6278127
Marshall6165126
Bolivar6129145
Union576089
Pike5626138
Alcorn540590
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George473572
Scott461596
Leflore4495140
Tippah448180
Prentiss447979
Itawamba4457100
Adams4429117
Tate4420103
Wayne434667
Simpson4339114
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Leake398286
Newton372375
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Stone351360
Tishomingo338389
Attala325987
Jasper316062
Winston305691
Clay297374
Chickasaw287866
Clarke283290
Calhoun267741
Holmes262887
Smith252249
Yalobusha224347
Tallahatchie221150
Walthall211758
Greene209945
Lawrence207034
Perry201054
Amite199452
Webster196942
Noxubee179339
Montgomery172954
Jefferson Davis168342
Carroll162537
Tunica154235
Benton143035
Kemper138840
Choctaw128826
Claiborne127134
Humphreys127038
Franklin116928
Quitman104227
Wilkinson102036
Jefferson91533
Sharkey63020
Issaquena1937
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 790648

Reported Deaths: 14025
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1117431765
Mobile709021237
Madison50032633
Shelby36350315
Baldwin36278495
Tuscaloosa34034548
Montgomery33229678
Lee22712220
Calhoun21297410
Morgan19852335
Etowah19341462
Marshall17716274
Houston16862386
St. Clair15479305
Cullman14659258
Limestone14609188
Elmore14507264
Lauderdale13557281
Talladega13015236
DeKalb12214237
Walker10604330
Blount9735157
Autauga9691137
Jackson9400158
Coffee8934175
Dale8631173
Colbert8545184
Tallapoosa6688181
Escambia6599121
Covington6466167
Chilton6395144
Russell608755
Franklin5805101
Chambers5425134
Marion4818120
Dallas4713189
Clarke464079
Pike463297
Geneva4433117
Winston427395
Lawrence4124108
Bibb410281
Barbour347470
Marengo326485
Monroe320253
Butler318490
Randolph306656
Pickens306474
Henry302658
Hale293085
Cherokee290855
Fayette280373
Washington245548
Crenshaw238770
Cleburne236751
Clay229265
Macon220658
Lamar200443
Conecuh182046
Coosa170835
Lowndes170858
Wilcox159736
Bullock149543
Perry136537
Sumter124736
Greene121443
Choctaw73427
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