Researchers and archaeologists who have been analyzing and exploring the remains of the last U.S. slave ship on the coast of Alabama, aka the “Clotilda,” have discovered that most of the ship is still intact since it sank in 1860, according to the Associated Press.
They found the cage that was used to detain enslaved Africans as they crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Also, the lower deck that was used to hold more enslaved Africans and stocks of goods was still mostly preserved after it settled underwater in a section of the river for decades, according to SEARCH Inc maritime archeologist, James Delgado.
The Associated Press has more details on the parts of the ship that are still recognizable:
At least two-thirds of the ship remains, and the existence of the unlit and unventilated slave pen, built during the voyage by the addition of a bulkhead where people were held as cargo below the main deck for weeks, raises questions about whether food and water containers, chains and even human DNA could remain in the hull, said Delgado.
“It’s a stunning revelation,” he said in an interview.
The discovery enhances the research value of the Clotilda’s remains and sets them apart from all other wrecks, Delgado said. The finding was confirmed in a report that was provided to The Associated Press and led to the site becoming part of the National Register of Historic Places in November.
“It’s the most intact (slave ship) wreck ever discovered,” he said. “It’s because it’s sitting in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta with fresh water and in mud that protected it that it’s still there.”
Jocelyn Davis, the vice president of the Clotilda Descendants Association and a sixth-generation granddaughter of African captive Charlie Lewis, thinks that the best way to learn what happened on that ship 160 years ago is for it to be shared through the people who were directly involved and affected. She also added that she is enthusiastic to learn more about the discoveries from the wreckage, per the story from the Associated Press:
The Clotilda was the last ship known to transport African captives to the American South for enslavement. Nearly 90 feet (27 meters) in length, it departed Mobile, Alabama, for an illegal trip to purchase people decades after Congress outlawed such trade in 1808.
The ship had been sent across the ocean on a voyage financed by a wealthy businessman whose descendants remain prominent in Mobile. The Clotilda’s captain transferred its human cargo off the ship once it arrived in Alabama and set fire to the vessel to hide evidence of the journey. But most of the ship didn’t catch fire and remained in the river.
Shown on navigational charts since the 1950s, the wreckage was publicly identified as that of Clotilda in 2019 and has been explored and researched since then, Delgado said.
$1 million has been set aside by the state of Alabama to both preserve the ship and for more research to be conducted; researchers need to determine whether the ship can be fully pulled out of the river and put on display.
A documentary called “Descendant” is also being developed about the African captives who were on the Clotilda and settled in a community they started near Mobile, Alabama called Africatown USA, according to the Associated Press.