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Wreck of Last Known Slave Ship Discovered by Archaeologists

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Researchers in Alabama may have discovered the last ship known to have carried African slaves to the United States — the Clotilda.

A reporter from AL.com found the remnants of the vessel buried in mud near an island in the lower Mobile-Tensaw Delta, not far from Mobile, Alabama.

The outlet based its assumptions off of historical records and accounts from older residents.

Despite the fact that a portion of the ship is covered in mud, nearly the entire length of the starboard side is exposed.

The wreck had previously been covered up by water. But very low tides caused by extreme winter weather — known as the “Bomb Cyclone” — have brought the water levels around Mobile about two and a half feet below normal due to heavy winds, thus leaving the ship partially exposed.

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“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 narrative history of the river.

“It’s certainly in the right vicinity. … We always knew it should be right around there.”

AL.com reporter Ben Raines took advantage of the unusually low tides to search for the lost ship after looking into where it might be.

Raines then contacted a shipwright and a team of archaeologists from the University of West Florida.

Do you think this shipwreck is the Clotilda?

The experts concluded that the wreck appeared to date back to the mid 1800s, and “featured construction techniques typical of Gulf Coast schooners used to haul lumber and other heavy cargo,” according to the outlet.

The ship also displayed signs of being burned.

These are all significant points, considering that the Clotilda was built in 1855, was designed to transport very heavy cargo and is believed to have been burned.

“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 who specializes 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.”

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The team from the University of West Florida was headed by Greg Cook and John Bratten, who have a history of investigating shipwrecks.

“You can definitely say maybe, and maybe even a little bit stronger, because the location is right, the construction seems to be right, from the proper time period, it appears to be burnt. So I’d say very compelling, for sure,” said Cook.

Bratten appeared to agree, stating, “There is nothing here to say this isn’t the Clotilda, and several things that say it might be.” He added that the evidence collected by AL.com warrants further exploration.

The outlet reported that only visual exploration of the wreckage has occurred, noting that strict laws in the Yellowhammer State incur harsh penalties — such as confiscation of boating and equipment — if anyone is caught disturbing shipwrecks without the proper permit.

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