Researchers Return to Assess America’s Last Slave Ship

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Researchers return to the Alabama coast near Mobile to assess the sunken remains of the last slave ship to bring captive Africans to the United States more than 160 years ago.

The Alabama Historical Commission said a team would begin a 10-day assessment of the Clotilda remains on Monday. Experts have described the wreck as the most complete slave ship ever discovered.

The agency hired Resolve Marine, a salvage and service company, for work involving the Clotilda. The ship was scuttled in the muddy Mobile River after illegally dumping 110 West Africans on the Alabama coast in 1860, decades after Congress banned the international slave trade.

The company plans to moor a 100-foot-long (30.5-meter-long) barge at the site with equipment to support divers and store artifacts that are removed from the water for analysis and documentation.

“It is an enormous duty to ensure that the Clotilda is assessed and preserved,” Aaron Jozsef, project manager for Resolve Marine, said in a statement.

Some have advocated removing the wreckage from the water and displaying it in a new museum that is being discussed, and officials said the work will help determine whether such a project is possible.

The Clotilda’s voyage was financed by a wealthy Alabama businessman, Timothy Meaher, whose descendants still own extensive land holdings around Mobile. Enslaved upon arriving in Alabama, some of the Africans founded a community called Africatown USA just north of Mobile after the Civil War, and many of their descendants still live there.

The wreckage of the ship in the river was identified as the Clotilda in 2019, and officials have been assessing the site and deciding what to do with it ever since. While small parts of the two-masted wooden schooner have been brought to the surface, researchers have found that most of the ship – including the enclosure that was used to imprison the captives – remains intact at the bottom of the river. .

Working with the state and SEARCH Inc., Resolve Marine said it will perform work including an assessment of the Clotilda’s hull and limited excavation of artifacts. He is also developing a plan to keep the wreckage where it currently lies in the river a few miles north of Mobile.

The work, which is being funded by a $1 million state appropriation, “will add to the collective understanding of the ship and the site’s potential to provide important archaeological information about the ship and its last voyage,” Jozsef said.

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