Senate passes Jones-Shelby resolution calling Clotilda ‘monumental discovery’

Current Work | Thu, 02/27/2020 at 09:12 AM

(AL.com) — The U.S. Senate on Thursday passed a resolution calling the discovery of the Clotilda – the last known slave ship that was found off Mobile -- a “monumental” find “of local, national, and international importance and educational value.”

Alabama’s two U.S. Senators – Democrat Doug Jones and Republican Richard Shelby – introduced the resolution to recognize the achievement of the discovery of the Clotilda, honor the residents of Africatown and express hope that the find “may serve as an inflection point for meaningful conversation about both past and present injustices.”

The ship was found in April 2018 near Twelve-Mile Island in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, with confirmation that the vessel was indeed the Clotilda in May 2019. Then-AL.com reporter Ben Raines was credited with helping find the slave ship.

The Clotilda, captained by shipbuilder William Foster, sailed into Mobile Bay with 110 African men, women, and children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 23 on board, according to the Encyclopedia of Alabama. The ship illegally transported 110 people from Benin in Africa to Mobile from February to July 1860.

“After their secret arrival—in 1820 the introduction of Africans was declared an act of piracy punishable by death—about 25 young people were sold upriver to slave brokers, but the majority remained in Mobile. Thirty-two became the property of Timothy Meaher, who had financed the expedition, and his brother James enslaved eight others, including Cudjo Lewis; twenty were sent to Burns Meaher’s plantation in Clarke County; between five and eight went to William Foster as payment for the trip; and others were bought by plantation owner Thomas Buford. The young Africans were employed as deckhands, field hands, and domestics,” the entry continues.

The Africans spent the next five years as slaves during the American civil war, freed only after the South had lost the conflict. Unable to return home to Africa, about 30 of them used money earned working in fields, homes and vessels to purchase land from the Meaher family and settle in a community still known to this day as Africatown.

“By passing this resolution, the United States Senate has recognized the monumental significance of the Clotilda and the resilience of its descendants,” Jones said in a joint statement with Shelby. “It is my sincere hope that we can use this an as an opportunity to further educate our society and to have meaningful conversations about racial injustice and how to continue moving our state forward.”

“I am pleased that we are taking the proper steps to memorialize the recent discovery of the Clotilda in the Mobile River,” Shelby said. “This remarkable site – which has been preserved by local residents, historians, and scientists – represents and honors the heritage and many unique traditions of the historic Africatown community. Further, the efforts to maintain and protect the Clotilda will provide important educational value and opportunities for years to come.”

(Staff, AL.com)