Telling the Story of the Slave Ship Clotilda and Celebrating Black History in Mobile, Alabama

Mobile, Alabama
Proudly embracing its history and culture, Mobile, Alabama remembers and honors all the people who have shaped its story. And you can learn about some of these stories at the Dora Franklin Finley African American Heritage Trail which highlights notable people of color throughout Mobile’s history and offers the chance for visitors to learn about parts of the past that must never be forgotten.

Included in this history is the story of the Clotilda, the last known slave ship to arrive in the United States in 1860 – decades after international slave trade was outlawed – and which was recently verified to be resting at the bottom of the Mobile River near 12 Mile Island and just a ways north of the Mobile Bay delta.

After the Civil War, Clotilda survivors formed their own community, naming it Africatown, and this year their descendants and the entire Mobile community are celebrating the long-anticipated opening of Clotilda: The Exhibition at the Africatown Heritage House. The exhibition shares the stories of the Clotilda, her survivors and those who came after them, and also serves as a place of reflection for the many African Americans who have been unable to trace their stories in the same way.

There will also be water tours that take visitors down the Mobile River to hear stories of captives on the schooner, Clotilda, a two-masted wooden ship. According to the Smithsonian, the ship was owned by steamboat captain and shipbuilder Timothy Meaher who bet another wealthy White man that he could bring a cargo of enslaved Africans aboard a ship into Mobile despite the 1807 Act Prohibiting the Importation of Slaves.And so in the autumn of 1860 Captain William Foster sailed for West Africa, capturing and successfully smuggled 110 enslaved Africans from Dahomey into Mobile. One captive did not survive the wretched conditions aboard, and perished during the Middle Passage.

The story of last shipment of enslaved people who landed on American soil, showcases not only the avariciousness and immorality of slave traders and those who profited off of the slaves but also the survival and heroism of the enslaved. It is ultimately a tale of resiliency and the ability to overcome adversity. After the Civil War, these enslaved people founded the Africatown community which still exists today.

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