Researchers studying Clotilda, the last known slave ship to reach America in 1860, have discovered most of the ship is still intact – down to an unventilated pen for captives.
Two-thirds of the ship remain protected by freshwater and mud in a river near Mobile, Alabama, including the entire lower deck where 108 enslaved Africans were kept.
“This is the most intact slave ship known to exist in the archeological record anywhere,” James Delgado, a maritime archaeologist who leads research on the Clotilda for SEARCH Inc., told National Geographic.
Researchers believe human DNA and other remains that may be found in the hull could help reveal descendants of the captives who later formed their own town, Africatown, after the Civil War.
William Foster, a wealthy businessman, secretly imported Africans to Alabama nearly half a century after the slave trade was outlawed. Foster tried to conceal the evidence by setting fire and sinking his ship after the slaves had been rescued. After failing to succeed, the majority of the vessel is still in the Mobile River.
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Charlie Lewis was among those who were Africans. Maggie Lewis is the vice president of Clotilda Descendants Association.
“I am anxious to see what they can bring up and what they can preserve,” Davis said in a New York Times article. “Finding the ship brought us closure. With it being intact, it’s just mind-blowing.”
In November, the ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Some suggest the ship should be pulled out of the mud to be put on display, but it is not that easy, Delgado said.
“Generally, raising is a very expensive proposition. My sense is that while it has survived, it is more fragile than people think,” Delgado said. “A recovery could be a very delicate operation and also a very expensive and lengthy process.”
Contributing to The Associated Press