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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: 319948

Reported Deaths: 7371
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto22285267
Hinds20719421
Harrison18431317
Rankin13901282
Jackson13718248
Madison10263224
Lee10059176
Jones8467167
Forrest7832153
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Washington5425137
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Pearl River4605147
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Warren4440121
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Monroe4157135
Union415777
Neshoba4063179
Lincoln4008112
Hancock386987
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Tate342486
Sunflower339491
Pike3371111
Alcorn327272
Scott320374
Yazoo314171
Adams308086
Itawamba305178
Copiah299966
Coahoma298784
Simpson298589
Tippah291968
Prentiss284161
Leake272074
Marion271280
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Holmes190474
Stone188433
Clay187954
Tallahatchie180041
Clarke178980
Calhoun174132
Yalobusha167840
Smith164134
Walthall135347
Greene131834
Lawrence131124
Montgomery128643
Noxubee128034
Perry127238
Amite126242
Carroll122330
Webster115032
Jefferson Davis108234
Tunica108127
Claiborne103130
Benton102325
Humphreys97533
Kemper96629
Franklin85023
Quitman82216
Choctaw79118
Wilkinson69632
Jefferson66228
Sharkey50917
Issaquena1696
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 548657

Reported Deaths: 11306
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson810031566
Mobile42105831
Madison35690525
Tuscaloosa26173458
Shelby25607254
Montgomery25081614
Baldwin21868314
Lee16278176
Calhoun14719327
Morgan14629285
Etowah14175364
Marshall12453230
Houston10781287
Elmore10293214
Limestone10179157
St. Clair10162251
Cullman9952201
Lauderdale9603250
DeKalb8972190
Talladega8460184
Walker7338280
Autauga7241113
Blount6945139
Jackson6932113
Colbert6413140
Coffee5635127
Dale4928116
Russell454841
Chilton4476116
Franklin431382
Covington4275122
Tallapoosa4138155
Escambia401680
Chambers3728124
Dallas3607158
Clarke353061
Marion3240107
Pike314378
Lawrence3133100
Winston283472
Bibb268564
Geneva257981
Marengo250565
Pickens236962
Barbour234559
Hale227278
Butler224271
Fayette218862
Henry194543
Randolph187544
Cherokee187345
Monroe180041
Washington170539
Macon163051
Clay160059
Crenshaw155957
Cleburne153444
Lamar146837
Lowndes142254
Wilcox126930
Bullock124342
Conecuh113630
Coosa111729
Perry108626
Sumter105732
Greene93634
Choctaw62125
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