FOR IMMEDIATE
RELEASE                                                                               


Contact: Wendi Lewis, Marketing and Public
Relations Manager  


wendi.lewis@ahc.alabama.gov, 334-230-2680


 


November 16, 2021


 


Clotilda added to
National Register of Historic Places;


Phase 3 archaeological exploration of ship and site underway


 


(Montgomery, AL) The submerged wreck of the Clotilda,
located in waters near Mobile, Alabama, was officially listed in the National
Register of Historic Places on November 8, 2021. Phase 3 of the archaeological
survey of the ship and surrounding site is currently underway. The Phase 3
exploration and site evaluation was funded by the Alabama State Legislature
with a $1 million appropriation to the Alabama Historical Commission in its
FY2021 budget.


 


The schooner Clotilda (1BA704) is a substantially
intact, submerged and partially buried shipwreck and archaeological site that
is the last vessel known to have transported captives from Africa to the United
States to enslave them. The story of this vessel and its destruction to avoid
prosecution, the resistance and resilience of the people forcibly brought to
America in it to be enslaved, and their post-Civil War forming of Africatown,
itself a National Register historic district of national significance, is an
important touchpoint in collective memory. 


The 19th- and 20th-century accounts of the surviving Clotilda
captives in newspapers and magazines shared their story with a larger American
audience, and the ongoing survival of Africatown holds great meaning. As such,
pinpointing the exact location of Clotilda, the vessel that serves as
the initial focus of the involuntary voyage that in time led to the creation of
this African American community, takes on additional significance.


The wreck of Clotilda, identified in 2018-2019 as
part of a thorough archaeological investigation, is of national significance
under National Register Criteria A and D for its associations with the
ethnogenesis of the African American community, especially through the voyage
forcibly merging a diverse ethnic community of African captives into a
community of “shipmates.” That community, upon arrival in Mobile, was
dispersed, but following the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery,
one group of 32 women and men from Clotilda formed their own new
community and identity in Africatown, on land bought and leased from their
former enslaver. There, with determination, resilience, and adherence to their
beliefs and cultures, they forged a legacy that was passed on to their
descendants. 


Africatown, a National Register historic district (NR#12000990)
was listed on December 4, 2012. Among Africatown’s many culturally significant
distinctions, the community members have a direct link to Clotilda
and the illegal voyage. The connection between a specific vessel and a living
community, Africatown, is rare and highly significant. Clotilda’s
connections to and role in regional maritime trade and commerce, reflected
through its form and construction, cargo and voyages, illustrate how integrally
the maritime commerce of the region was linked to the use of enslaved labor in
its trades, industries, and agriculture. Clotilda’s entire maritime career is
a microcosm of the maritime history of the Gulf of Mexico and its many ports of
trade, including Cuba.


The nomination for Clotilda was funded by a Certified
Local Government grant from the Alabama Historical Commission to the City of
Mobile and was prepared by Dr. James Delgado, Kyle Lent, and Michael Brennan of
SEARCH, Inc. The National Register of Historic Places is the nation’s official
list of cultural resources, 50 years or older, worthy of preservation.
Authorized under the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National
Register is part of a nationwide program to coordinate and support public and
private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect our historic and
archaeological places.


“It is a tremendous duty to ensure that Clotilda is protected, and
the Alabama Historical Commission takes its role as the legal guardian of
Clotilda very seriously,” said Lisa D. Jones, Executive Director of the Alabama
Historical Commission and State Historic Preservation Officer. “The Clotilda is
an essential historic artifact and stark reminder of what transpired during the
Transatlantic slave trade. We are committed to our role in preserving this
story for the world.”


In May 2019, after a comprehensive assessment and months of
research, the Alabama Historical Commission announced experts determined the
identity of the Clotilda through archaeological
evidence. The storied ship illegally transported 110 people from Benin, Africa
to Mobile, Alabama, in 1860, more than 50 years after the United States banned
the importation of enslaved people to the country.


Co-conspirators Timothy Meaher and Captain William Foster made an
effort to evade authorities and destroy evidence of their criminal voyage by
sinking, burning, and abandoning the vessel and then dividing the kidnapped
Africans among their captors, where they remained in slavery until the end of
the Civil War. A small band of the Clotilda passengers reunited post-war
with the hopes of returning to Africa. When that dream was not realized, the
survivors and their descendants established a new home for themselves in the
Plateau area of Mobile – a community which is known today as Africatown.


For more than 20 years, the Alabama Historical Commission – the
State Historic Preservation Office – has been supporting the effort to find the
Clotilda, issuing permits and grant funding to
archaeologists and firms since 1997. Since its positive identification, the
agency has undertaken a focused, methodical and deliberate effort to develop a
management plan for the site, with all considerations for its preservation.
Thanks to the support and funding from Governor Kay Ivey and the Alabama State
Legislature, AHC is moving forward with Phase 3 of the process.


AHC has contracted with RESOLVE Marine, who is subcontracted with
SEARCH, Inc. and Stantec for this phase of archaeological investigation, which
will include high-resolution sonar survey to provide updated and detailed
imagery of the vessel and monitor ongoing erosion and other natural processes
that may affect its preservation; a marine geological study to assess the
composition, structure, and resistance of the sediment in and around the wreck
and an engineering assessment to determine the stability of the site in its
current context; a system to measure and monitor river current and water
movement both in and around the wreck; a biological assessment to determine the
degree to which the biological colonization of the wreck is causing decay; and,
finally, a limited and targeted excavation to investigate the wreck itself.


The data collected in this phase of investigation will be used to
develop a scientific, evidence-based plan to address and arrest effects of
ongoing erosion and other natural processes, help to determine if stabilization
of the site is necessary, and provide information to inform a preservation
plan. As part of this evaluation, the engineering study also will examine the
integrity of the riverbed for consideration of erecting a memorial on site.


About the Alabama Historical Commission


Located in historic downtown Montgomery at 468 S.
Perry Street, the Alabama Historical Commission is the state historic
preservation agency for Alabama. The agency was created by an act of the state
legislature in 1966 with a mission to protect, preserve and interpret Alabama’s
historic places. AHC works to accomplish its mission through two fields of
endeavor: Preservation and promotion of state-owned historic sites as public
attractions; and, statewide programs to assist people, groups, towns, and
cities with local preservation activities. For a complete list of programs and
properties owned and operated by the AHC, hours of operation, and admission
fees please visit
ahc.alabama.gov  


 



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