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The Last American Slave Ship

Although slavery continued in the United States until the end of the Civil War, the importation of slaves from Africa was banned in 1807. By the 1850s, the practice was dead, but Mobile, Alabama, businessman Timothy Meaher commissioned the ship Clotilda, captained by William Foster, to bring in slaves to Mobile.

With the nation edging closer to civil war over the slavery issue, Alabama steamboat captain and plantation owner Timothy Meaher made an infamous bet that he could sneak slaves into the country, right under the noses of federal troops at the twin forts that guarded the mouth of Mobile Bay. Historian Sylvianne Diouf traced the evolution of the wicked scheme and the resulting journey in her excellent book, Dreams of Africa in Alabama, published in 2007. Attempts to contact Diouf were unsuccessful.

The book primarily focuses on the story of the captives, who were freed just five years after they were enslaved, thanks to the end of the Civil War. The group, 110 strong, originally asked their captor, Meaher, to pay for passage back to Africa. After he refused, they appealed to the U.S. government, again to no avail. Ultimately, some members of the group bought a small piece of land north of Mobile from Meaher and created a community called Africatown, where some of the descendants of the original slaves still live. They spoke their native tongue, farmed using traditional African methods, and ran their own school.

Upon successful completion of the smuggling operation, Foster burned and sank the ship to hide the evidence. The Clotilda wasn't seen again -until now. A reporter for Al.com believes he has found the wreckage of the Clotilda. Read the story of the Clotilda's last run and its rediscovery. -via Mental Floss

(Image credit: Leigh T Harrell)


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