Has America’s last slave ship been discovered?


I am writing today about one of the most heartbreaking but redemptive stories I have ever read.

Slavery was legal in the United States until Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. However, in 1808, the US outlawed the importation of slaves into this country.

In 1859, a wealthy Southern plantation and shipyard owner named Timothy Meaher made a $100,000 bet. His wager: that he could successfully deliver an illegal shipload of slaves into the harbor of Mobile, Alabama.

To win the bet, Meaher spent another $50,000 to construct a slave ship that did not look like other slave ships. Named the Clotilda, it was designed to be sleek and fast, with two masts and a length of eighty-six feet and a beam of twenty-three feet. Its hull was built to hold one hundred slaves.

Meaher hired Captain William Foster, known to be the best sailboat captain on the Gulf Coast. In 1860, Foster set out for Africa to bring back a load of illegal slaves.

On the African west coast, the Dahomey tribe was engaged in war with the Tarkbar tribe. The Dahomey tribe captured the Tarkbar tribe, then sold 110 of its members to Captain Foster for $100 each. Though the Clotilda was designed to transport one hundred people, the captain assumed that 10 percent of the slaves would not survive the voyage.

However, they all did. Their ages ranged from five to twenty-three.

“This is the proof that we needed”

On the night of July 8, 1860, the Clotilda began its entrance into Mobile Bay. Federal authorities had learned of the shipment and were waiting for them, so Foster offloaded the slaves onto a riverboat and sent them ashore.

To destroy the evidence, he set fire to the Clotilda and sank it in the middle of the Mobile Bay. Though the US government investigated the crime, the loss of the ship and its manifest meant that Timothy Meaher and Captain Foster were never convicted.

The story of America’s last slave ship was passed down from the slaves it transported to their…

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