Saturday, June 29, 2019

Discovery of the Last Slave Ship

Her name was Clotilda and her recent discovery in the waters of Alabama’s Mobile River was a historian’s dream. But for the 110 black men, women, and children who were captured, stuffed into the cramped quarters of the ship’s hold, and taken across the ocean from Africa, the schooner Clotilda became a nightmare. And all for a bet made by a cocky plantation owner.

The year was 1860 and importing African slaves had been illegal in the United States for over 50 years. However, some smugglers defied the authorities. After making a $1,000 bet that he could sneak a slave ship past federal officials, Timothy Meaher purchased the Clotilda and paid a captain to do the dirty work of transporting human cargo. 

Inside the slave ships below deck

After they arrived in the Mobile area, the ship sailed up the Spanish River and the slaves were transferred to a ferry. The Clotilda, the last of countless slave ships, was set afire and sunk. In 2018, her remains were discovered. Its identity was confirmed in May of 2019.

Finding the Clotilda was not an easy discovery. Archeology experts focused on an area of the river where many ships had met their watery grave. It took measuring the dimensions of the ship and inspecting the hull, as well the types of wood. After much inspection, archeologists were convinced it was indeed the long-lost slave ship. 

Discussions are underway on exactly how to hallow the remains of the ship and honor the memory of the slaves who survived the journey. Some descendants of the slaves, who now live in the Mobile community known as Africatown, hope this discovery will open honest discussion about the past. Their family stories have now been validated.

The sad follow up for many of these slave families was that they hoped, once the Civil War was over, they could return to Africa. But that dream failed to materialize. They spent the rest of their lives in the United States. 

Since I recently researched the African slave trade, I was drawn to this story the moment I read it on the news. I just signed a contract for the publication of my 2020 release called Scarred Vessels, a story of the first black regiment in the American Revolution. I took a deeper look into the horror of the slave trade and it still brings tears to my eyes. 

As a lover of history, I am thrilled that the remains of the Clotilda have been discovered. But as a person who loves genealogy and who believes that “all men are created equal,” I pray this discovery brings awareness to us all of the painful history of their black ancestry, as well as recognition that, without God, humans are capable of horrible sin.

I pray the descendants of the Clotilda slaves will take some comfort in the validation of their family’s heritage as well as pride in the resilience of the survivors to begin anew, far from their native home.

Elaine Marie Cooperhas two historical fiction books that recently released: War’s Respite(Prequel novella) and Love’s KindlingLove’s Kindlingis available in both e-book and paperback. They are the first two books in the Dawn of AmericaSeries set in Revolutionary War Connecticut. Cooper is the award-winning author of Fields of the Fatherlessand Bethany’s Calendar. Her 2016 release (Saratoga Letters) was finalist in Historical Romance in both the Selah Awards and Next Generation Indie Book Awards. She penned the three-book Deer Run Saga and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies. You can visit her website/ blog at


  1. Thanks for this post! I hope memorializing that ship is done in a way that honors the occupants.

  2. Elaine, Thank you for sharing this history even though it's sad. I trust The Clotilda will be honored for those who lost their lives because of greedy bet.

  3. I hope there can be a meaningful memorial and a positive recognition of the surviving descendants.