Wreck Found by Reporter may be Last American Slave Ship, Ben Raines, AL.com, January 23, 2018.
Relying on historical records and accounts from old timers, AL.com
may have located the long-lost wreck of the Clotilda, the last slave
ship to bring human cargo to the United States.
What's left of the ship lies partially buried in mud alongside an
island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, a few miles north of the city
of Mobile. The hull is tipped to the port side, which appears almost
completely buried in mud. The entire length of the starboard side,
however, is almost fully exposed. The wreck, which is normally
underwater, was exposed during extreme low tides brought on by the same
weather system that brought the "Bomb Cyclone" to the Eastern Seaboard.
Low tide around Mobile was about two and a half feet below normal thanks
to north winds that blew for days.
"I'm quaking with excitement. This would be a story of world
historical significance, if this is the Clotilda," said John Sledge, a
senior historian with Mobile Historical Commission, and author of The
Mobile River, an exhaustive history of the river. "It's certainly in the
right vicinity... We always knew it should be right around there."
This reporter, Ben Raines, used the abnormally low tides to search
for the ship after researching possible locations. The remote spot where
the ship was found, deep in the swampy Mobile-Tensaw Delta, is
accessible only by boat. During my first trips after discovering the
wreck, I documented it with photographs and aerials shot with a drone.
Over the next week, I ferried a shipwright expert in the construction
techniques used on old wooden vessels and a team of archaeologists from
the University of West Florida to the site.
All concluded that the wreck dated to the mid 1800s (the Clotilda was
built in 1855), and featured construction techniques typical of Gulf
Coast schooners used to haul lumber and other heavy cargo, as the
Clotilda was designed to do. The vessel also bore telltale signs of
being burned, as the Clotilda reportedly was. In later years, the
slavers bragged of burning the ship at the conclusion of their voyage in
July of 1860 in an effort to hide proof of their human trafficking.
Evidence of a fire on the wreck included a distinctive patina on wrought
iron chain plates used to hold the masts and bowsprit in place, and
charred beams and timbers in the ship's interior.
"These ships were the 18-wheelers of their day. They were designed to
haul a huge amount of cargo in relatively shallow water," said Winthrop
Turner, a shipwright specializing in wooden vessels. "That's why you
see the exceptional number of big iron drifts used to hold the planking
together. That's also why the sides of the ship are so stout. They are
almost two feet thick. The construction techniques here, no threaded
bolts, iron drifts, butt jointed planking, these all confirm a ship
built between 1850 and 1880."
Full Text and Video at Alabama.com