The last known slave ship that smuggled enslaved Africans to the United States has finally been identified by researchers.
On Wednesday, the Alabama Historical Commission confirmed the wooden slave ship, Clotilda, whose remains are situated near Mobile, Alabama, has been positively identified and confirmed after several months of scrutiny, the Associated Press reports.
“The discovery of the Clotilda is an extraordinary archaeological find,” Lisa Demetropoulos Jones, the executive director of the commission said. She added that the ship’s voyage “represented one of the darkest eras of modern history,” and the wreck provides “tangible evidence of slavery.”
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Despite the law that prohibited the importation of slaves into the United States was passed as far back as 1807, the Clotilda was successfully able to smuggle 110 enslaved African men, women and children from Benin to Mobile, Alabama, in 1860 after a plantation owner reportedly bet a friend that he could smuggle in a group of slaves from Africa aboard the ship.
To avoid detection, the smugglers snuck the slaves into Alabama at night and hid them in a swamp for several days. They then burned the 86-foot sailboat on the banks of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta to hide their crime following a tip-off to the authorities of their activities. They were, however, cleared of charges of illegal possession of captives as the slaves and evidence were not found.
The incident, which happened months before the 1861 civil war saw the Africans being forced to work as slaves during the war. They were only freed after the confederate army surrendered.
Unable to raise enough money to go back to Africa, about 30 of the freed slaves used the little that they had to purchase land near the state capital Mobile which they named Africatown. The group developed Africatown into a community of people with a shared African background. They appointed leaders and built a church, a school, and a cemetery.
A descendant of one of the African’s aboard the ship told the Associated Press she was amazed its remains had been found.
“I think about the people who came before us who labored and fought and worked so hard,” she said. “I’m sure people had given up on finding it. It’s a wow factor.”
Moving to clear any doubts, the commission confirmed the measurements, building materials and the construction of the wreck was a positive match to the Clotilda.
“We are cautious about placing names on shipwrecks that no longer bear a name or something like a bell with the ship’s name on it,” maritime archaeologist James Delgado said in a statement.
“But the physical and forensic evidence powerfully suggests that this is Clotilda.”
The verification of the ship comes a year after the discovery of a wreckage suspected to be the Clotilda. It was, however, established it was the remains of another ship.