Many folks are unaware of a ship named “Clotilda”. But, the Clotilda holds a unique place in the most shameful chapter in our nation’s history. The Clotilda was the last ship to bring enslaved Africans to America, sneaking into the swampy delta of Mobile Bay on July 9, 1860. Ben Raines has written a finely detailed book about the Clotilda and the people involved in this horrible affair – “The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning”. The United States had outlawed the importation of African captives to be sold into slavery in 1808. In the time between 1808 and 1860, enforcement of the law was spotty at best, especially in the South, because while the importation of Africans was banned, slavery remained legal. Which, of course, meant that the demand for slaves continued unabated. Unsurprisingly, wealthy plantation owners found creative ways around the laws against the African slave trade. One of those creative ways was the Clotilda. After the Clotilda completed its illicit journey across the Atlantic, it was scuttled and burned to the water line. The remnants sank in the Mobile River near Twelve Mile Island, north of Mobile, Alabama. Why did the slavers do this? Well, although enforcement of the law was lax, it was not totally ignored, so it was imperative to destroy any evidence of slave running. And, it worked, too. The slavers involved were brought to trial, but with no physical evidence, the case was dismissed. But not forgotten. “The Last Slave Ship” is more than a simple description of the efforts to find a lost ship after 160 years. Ben Raines expertly provides the human context necessary for a book such as this. In fact, the best parts of this book are the stories of those unfortunate souls brought to America by force on the Clotilda. Their personal histories survived because five years after their arrival in America, the Civil War ended and those who were enslaved became free. And, freedom meant they could reclaim and record their history, and share their experiences in their own words. While it is pointless to rank the crimes that humanity has perpetrated upon itself, slavery has to be right up there. In America, as we all know, white Europeans were the enslavers, and Africans were the enslaved. In Africa, there were despotic rulers who captured their fellow Africans and sold them to the white slave traders. It does not diminish or excuse the evil on either side of the Atlantic Ocean to point out the evil on both sides. Slavery is a repugnant stain on American and global history that continues to affect societies around the world. Even today.
Sep 16, 2022