Last American slave ship discovered in waters off Alabama coast
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The last known slave ship to arrive in the U.S. has been found in waters off the coast of Alabama, the Smithsonian reported Wednesday.

Researchers with the Alabama Historical Commission confirmed Wednesday that the remains of the ship, the Clotilda, were found along the Mobile River.

The Commission and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s Slave Wrecks Project have been involved in the search for the shipwreck for the past two years. Researchers previously believed the ship had been found in 2018, though they ultimately determined that wreck was too large to be the Clotilda.


Researchers first proposed launching a search for the ship two years ago after talking to descendants of the founders of Africatown, the community established after the Civil War by the survivors of the ship. Curators and researchers, have been in talks with descendants of slaves who survived passage on the Clotilda to ensure the scientific verification of the ship also employed community engagement, the Smithsonian reported.

“This was a search not only for a ship. This was a search to find our history and this was a search for identity, and this was a search for justice,” said Smithsonian curator and SWP co-director Paul Gardullo. “This is a way of restoring truth to a story that is too often papered over."

"Africatown is a community that is economically blighted and there are reasons for that," he added. Justice can involve recognition. Justice can involve things like hard, truthful talk about repair and reconciliation.”

According to the Smithsonian, there are no photographs of the site where the ship was found or of the wreck.

“[The ship] wasn’t very deep. Eight to ten feet at most,” diver Kamau Sadiki said. “But the conditions are sort of treacherous. Visibility was almost zero and there’s some current, but the most important thing is that you’re among wreckage that you cannot see. There’s a whole host of possibilities to being injured, from being impaled, to getting snagged and so forth.”

The U.S. banned the importation of slaves from Africa in 1808, but numerous plantation owners brought them in illegally, including Timothy Meaher. Meaher shipped captured slaves back from what was then the Kingdom of Dahomey back to the U.S. and up the Mobile River, after which he had the ship taken upriver, burned and sunk to hide evidence of the illegal importation.