Clotilda: The History and Archaeology of the Last Slave Ship is the first definitive work to examine the maritime historical and archaeological record of one of the most infamous ships in American history. Clotilda was owned by Alabama businessman Timothy Meaher, who, on a dare, equipped it to carry captured Africans from what is now Benin and bring them to Alabama in 1860—some fifty years after the import of captives to be enslaved was banned. To hide the evidence, Clotilda was set afire and sunk.
What remained was a substantially intact, submerged, and partially buried shipwreck located in a backwater of the Mobile River. The site of the wreck was an open secret to some people who knew Meaher, but its identity remained unknown for more than a century as various surveys through the years failed to locate the ship.
This volume, authored by the archaeological team who conducted a comprehensive, systematic survey of a forgotten “ship graveyard,” details the exhaustive forensic work that conclusively identified the wreck, as well as the stories and secrets that have emerged from the partly burned hulk. James P. Delgado and his coauthors discuss the various searches for Clotilda, sharing the forensic data and other analyses showing how those involved concluded that this wreck was indeed Clotilda. Additionally, they offer physical evidence not previously shared that situates the schooner and its voyage in a larger context of the slave trade.
Clotilda: The History and Archaeology of the Last Slave Ship serves as a nautical biography of the ship as well. After reviewing the maritime trade in and out of Mobile Bay, this account places Clotilda within the larger landscape of American and Gulf of Mexico schooners and chronicles its career before being used as a slave ship. All of its voyages had a link to slavery, and one may have been another smuggling voyage in violation of federal law. The authors have also painstakingly reconstructed Clotilda’s likely appearance and characteristics.
“The importance of the Clotilda wreck is immense; we are all fortunate that such a talented professional team could be assembled quickly to protect it and begin its study. They are also to be congratulated for working quickly to publish their findings.”
—Gregory A. Waselkov, coeditor of Forging Southeastern Identities: Social Archaeology, Ethnohistory, and Folklore of the Mississippian to Early Historic South
"The authors have created a wonderfully engaging book that, while telling the story of the vessel's rediscovery and identification with great precision, brilliantly conveys the drama and intrigue of this schooner's dark story."
"[Clotilda] concentrates a wealth of information, presenting the story in a well-organized, highly readable, and clearly written narrative that informs on many levels—history, archaeological research, and deep meaning for the community closely connected with the historical events. It is a masterful work bringing to light one of the final episodes in a base and reprehensible part of our past."