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Clotilda Found

The last American slave ship was the highly illegal Clotilda. Mobile, Alabama, businessman Timothy Meaher commissioned the ship to bring in 110 enslaved people from Africa in 1860 to show that it could be done, even though importing slaves had been illegal for 50 years. After its mission, the ship was burned to the waterline to hide the evidence. In January of 2018, the Clotilda became a nationwide story when a reporter thought he found the wreck, but it turned out not to be the notorious slave ship. However, that story led to funding through AHC and National Geographic Society and Search, Inc. to look further. Because the Clotilda was both custom-built and insured, there are documents that describe its uniqueness. An area of the Mobile River that had never been dredged was scanned, and many shipwrecks were found.

Most were easily eliminated: wrong size, metal hull, wrong type of wood. But one vessel, labeled Target 5, stood out from the rest. It "matched everything on record about Clotilda," says Delgado, including its design and dimensions, the type of wood and metal used in its construction, and evidence that it had burned.

Samples of wood recovered from Target 5 are white oak and southern yellow pine from the Gulf coast. The archaeologists also found the remains of a centerboard of the correct size.

Metal fasteners from its hull are made of hand-forged pig iron, the same type known to have been used on Clotilda. And there’s evidence that the hull was originally sheathed with copper, as was then common practice for oceangoing merchant vessels.

No nameplate or other inscribed artifacts conclusively identified the wreck, Delgado says, "but looking at the various pieces of evidence, you can reach a point beyond reasonable doubt."

Read the story of the Clotilda and the discovery of its final resting place at National Geographic.

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Henry Louis Gate Jr's show Finding Your Roots has an episode where one of his guests has an ancestor that arrived on the Clotilda. These things aren't ancient history. We're still living with it today.
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