Finding Clotilda

Lost since its fateful voyage in 1860, Clotilda—the last slave ship to bring African captives to the American South—has been discovered in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta of Alabama. Archaeologists combed through hundreds of original sources for clues to find the historic vessel and confirm its identity. Here are some key pieces of evidence.

by Jason Treat, Matt Chwastyk, and Kelsey Nowakowski

Finding Clotilda

Lost since its fateful voyage in 1860, Clotilda—the last slave ship to bring African captives to the American South—has been discovered in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta of Alabama. Archaeologists combed through hundreds of original sources for clues to find the historic vessel and confirm its identity. Here are some key pieces of evidence.

by Jason Treat, Matt Chwastyk,

and Kelsey Nowakowski

Dimensions

Insurance documents provided detailed descriptions of the schooner, including its construction and dimensions. The sunken vessel matches Clotilda’s measurements and materials, including its southern yellow pine planks and white oak frames.

Hold: 7 feet

Length:

86 feet

Beam:

23 feet

The Hold

Clotilda’s cramped hold, only seven feet high, was originally designed to transport cargo,

not people. Planks were laid down at the bottom of the hull, where 110 people endured the more than six-week voyage.

Copper Sheathing

The hull was sheathed in copper to protect

it from decay and ocean waves. Only five schooners built in the Mobile area at the time

were insured for transatlantic sailing, which required this protective copper sheathing.

Galvanized fasteners

Iron fasteners in the hull would corrode if they came in contact with the copper sheathing. Clotilda’s fasteners were galvanized in hot-dipped zinc, then countersunk

and plugged with wood and pitch.

Frame

Planks

Copper

sheathing

Pig iron fastener

hot-dipped

in zinc

Pitch

Wooden plug

Clotilda’s Journey

In 1860, Clotilda smuggled

West African captives into the U.S.

Routes and dates are taken from the account

of the ship’s captain, William Foster.

Arrived May 15

Departed circa May 24

with 110 captives.

Ouidah

KINGDOM OF

DAHOMEY

AFRICA

Cape

Palmas

Cape Verde Is.

(PORTUGAL)

Apr. 16

Porto

Praya

(Praia)

ATLANTIC

OCEAN

EQUATOR

Mar. 17

Bermuda

SOUTH

AMERICA

Departed

Mar. 4, 1860

Jun.

30

Jun.

30

Mar. 7

Cuba

(SPAIN)

ALA.

N

Mobile

Arrived

Jul. 9

NORTH

AMERICA

1000 mi

UNITED

STATES

1000 km

AT THE EQUATOR

Clotilda’s Final

Resting Place

According to Captain Foster, after the voyage he burned Clotilda to the waterline and sank the ship in about 20 feet of water in the Mobile River. Later attempts to hide her location included using dynamite to blast the wreck. Archaeologists have found the wreck buried

in silt using 3D scanners, magnetometers,

and other technology.

Waterline

18 feet

Exposed bow

River bottom

Scattered planks

from dynamiting

Submerged stern

Art: Thom Tenery.

Sources: James Delgado, Search, Inc.

Mobile Public Library

Dimensions

Insurance documents provided detailed descriptions of the schooner, including its construction and dimensions. The sunken vessel matches Clotilda’s measurements and materials, including its southern yellow pine planks and white oak frames.

Hold:

7 feet

Length:

86 feet

Beam:

23 feet

The Hold

Clotilda’s cramped hold, only seven feet high, was originally designed

to transport cargo, not people. Planks were laid down at the bottom of the hull, where 110 people endured the six-week voyage.

Copper Sheathing

The hull was sheathed in copper to protect it from decay and ocean waves. Only five schooners built in the Mobile area at the time were insured for transatlantic sailing, which required this protective copper sheathing.

Galvanized fasteners

Iron fasteners in the hull would corrode if they came in

contact with the copper sheathing. Clotilda’s fasteners

were galvanized in hot-dipped zinc, then countersunk

and plugged with wood and pitch.

Frame

Planks

Copper

sheathing

Pig iron fastener

hot-dipped

in zinc

Pitch

Wooden plug

Clotilda’s Journey

In 1860, Clotilda smuggled West African captives into the U.S.

Routes and dates are taken from the account of the ship’s captain, William Foster.

EUROPE

NORTH

ATLANTIC

OCEAN

AMERICA

UNITED STATES

ALA.

Bermuda

Departed

Mar. 4, 1860

Mobile

Mar. 17

Arrived

Jul. 9

Jun. 30

Mar. 7

Cuba

AFRICA

Cape Verde Is.

(SPAIN)

(PORTUGAL)

Porto Praya

(Praia)

KINGDOM OF

DAHOMEY

Apr. 16

Arrived

May 15

Ouidah

1000 mi

Cape Palmas

Cape Palmas

SOUTH

AMERICA

1000 km

Departed circa

May 24 with

110 captives.

Departed circa

May 24 with

110 captives.

EQUATOR

AT THE EQUATOR

Clotilda’s Final Resting Place

According to Captain Foster, after the voyage he burned Clotilda to the waterline and sank the ship in about 20 feet of water in the Mobile River. Later attempts to hide her location included using dynamite to blast the wreck. Archaeologists have found the wreck buried in silt using 3D scanners, magnetometers, and other technology.

Waterline

18 feet

Exposed bow

River bottom

Scattered planks

from dynamiting

Submerged stern