Relatives of the West Africans who were kidnapped and sailed to the U.S. on the last slave ship are organizing a get-together in Alabama, where the ship landed just before the Civil War.

The “Spirit of Our Ancestors” festival on Saturday will bring together the descendants of the 110 people enslaved after arriving on The Clotilda in 1860, The Associated Press reports.

Event organizer Joycelyn Davis, 42, is the sixth-generation granddaughter of African captive Charlie Lewis. She and five other families began the initial planning for the event to celebrate their heritage.


“I am so proud to say I am a descendant. That wasn’t a word that I used maybe 10, 15 years ago,” Davis said. “It was shameful as a child.”

The importation of slaves was banned by U.S. law in 1808, but smugglers continued enslaving ships full of people to work in the bottom cotton fields on southern plantations.

Alabama plantation owner Timothy Meaher made a bet that he could bring a shipload of African slaves across the ocean, historian Natalie Robertson told AP.

Smugglers continued operating “as much for defiance as for sport," Robertson said. 

The Clotilda sailed from Mobile, Ala., to what is modern-day Benin in Western Africa. The captives arrived in 1860 and the ship was quickly burned in the Mobile Bay, Robertson said.

The 110 people on board were forced into slavery for the next five years, until the end of the Civil War.

Meaher was charged with smuggling and faced a possible death sentence, but was never prosecuted, AP reported. His family remains prominent along the Alabama coast and a state park and street are named after him.

After the end of the war, the freed slaves were unable to return to their homelands. About 30 people used money they had earned to purchase land from the Meaher family to settle Africatown USA.

“They resolved they would build their Africa in America,” Robertson said.

The self-sufficient group established a chief, court system, churches and a school which later became Mobile County Training School.

The population grew to be estimated at more than 10,000 residents but has now dropped to roughly 1,800 as industrial development blocked access to the Mobile River and Chickasaw Creek essential for catching crabs and fish, AP reported. 

Africatown was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, but little has been gone to create a major tourist attraction in the area.

The remains of the burned Clotida wreck have yet to be found.