Historians in Alabama have located the wreckage of the last known slave ship in the United States in the Gulf Coast.
After several months of assessment, the Alabama Historical Commission said the wrecked schooner found near Mobile was indeed Clotilda, the only remaining vessel known to have transported slaves from Africa to the continental United States.
Researchers believe the Clotilda's crew scuttled the wooden ship right before the start of the U.S. Civil War to prevent officials from finding out their illegal activities. No one knew where they hid the schooner until today.
Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, the AHC's executive director, called the Clotilda's discovery as an "extraordinary" archaeological find.
She said the schooner's journey represented one of the darkest periods in modern history, and that the wreck serves as tangible proof that slavery existed.
The Slave Ship Clotilda
Slavers used the Clotilda to forcibly transport 110 people from West Africa to Mobile from February to July 1860. They then took the wooden schooner into delta waters located north of the port to burn it down to keep officials from discovering their illegal trade. The U.S. government had already banned slavery in the country in 1808.
The African slaves were eventually set free and they settled in a community that later became Africatown. However, no one ever found out where exactly the slavers scuttled the Clotilda.
After confirming the identity of the wreck in Mobile as that of the Clotilda, the researchers unveiled the remains of the infamous slave ship to the descendants of the 1860 voyage.
"They had been waiting for this for a long time," AHC Chairman Walter Givhan told news website NPR. "They were jubilant."
Joycelyn Davis, a descendant of one of the Africans who was transported by the Clotilda to the United States, claimed to have gotten chills after finding out that the wreck of the slave ship had been located.
She said she was wowed by the schooner's discovery after believing that people may have already given up locating the slave ship.
In March 2018, a local Mobile news reporter claimed to have found the wreck of the Clotilda.
Ben Raines, a journalist for AL.com, said he had come across the wooden remains of what could be the infamous slave ship. The wreckage was believed to have been buried in mud near an island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, just outside Mobile.
Raines had apparently been researching on the long-missing schooner, collecting data from historical articles and records, including notes from the Clotilda's captain himself. He also interviewed locals who had centuries-old connections to the area for additional information.
Raines came across a source that claimed to know where the wreckage was located, so he decided to check it out.
He said the wreck he found was old and burned down, and it was exactly where his source said the Clotilda's crew scuttled the ship.
However, the AHC later determined that the wreck that Raines found was not the Clotilda's but from another ship.
The Commission said Raines' ship was about 158 feet and 5 inches long, while the Clotilda's was only about 86 feet long. It also originally had three masts on it, while the historical slave ship had two. The sizes of the timbers on each ship also did not match one another.
The AHC said the most compelling evidence against the Raines' ship was that it did not have any signs of fire damage, which would be present in the Clotilda since it was burned down before it sunk. It was likely that the damage on Raines' ship was caused by small marine organisms eating away the vessel's wooden parts.
While Raines' discovery may not have turned out to be the Clotilda, it did spark people's renewed interest on the historical ship. This helped fuel the search for the slave ship until it was eventually found.