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The archaeologists agreed that Raines had probably found what was left of the Clotilda.
In the summer of 1860, the Clotilda brought 110 men, women and children from Africa to Alabama in violation of U.S. laws that banned international slave trade. The ship’s trans-Atlantic journey was the last recorded trip bringing human cargo from an African nation to the United States.
The expedition was financed by Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Mobile businessman who made a bet that he could sneak slaves into the country past forts on either side of the entrance to Mobile Bay, “under the officers’ noses.”
Meaher was able to hire a ship and captain to bring the slaves to Mobile, but fearing that he would be caught and punished for the stunt, Meaher arranged for the ship to be burned after he had the slaves unloaded.
Those 110 slaves who were brought over on the Clotilda were freed five years later at the end of the Civil War. They asked Meaher to pay for their return to Africa. He refused, and the group went on to petition the U.S. government for the money. When the government refused, the group took up residence near Mobile, creating the community of Africatown.
The town, according to historian Sylvianne Diouf in her book "Dreams of Africa in Alabama," was run under traditional African law and used African farming and education methods. The last survivor of the Clotilda trip, Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis , died in 1935, though descendants of the slaves brought over on the ship still live in the area.
The story of the Clotilda was recently resurrected in an episode of the PBS series "Finding Your Roots," hosted by historian Henry Gates. In a December episode, Roots front man and drummer Questlove – whose given name is Ahmir Thompson – finds out that his great, great, great grandfather, Charles Lewis, was one of the slaves brought to America on the Clotilda's trip.
Gates tells Questlove that Meaher chose the more than 100 slaves from a group of 4,000 to be brought to Alabama. Lewis was one of those chosen.
"Think about the odds, man," Gates said.