The Last Slave Ship review: the Clotilda, Africatown and a lasting American injustice
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By Michael Henry Adams, The Guardian
Ben Raines offers a welcome and affecting history lesson about a dark moment in US history and how its legacy lingered
Raines begins in 1860, 50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed. That was when a sleek, custom-built schooner, the Clotilda, returned to Mobile, Alabama, from Dahomey, which nowadays is known as Benin. Chartered by a planter and riverboat captain, Timothy Meaher, the Clotilda carried a valuable cargo: 110 young black captives. Meaher had made a thousand-dollar bet with passengers at the captain’s table. He could pull off the caper of bringing a boatload of enslaved Africans to Mobile – a capital offense – without consequence. Spoiler alert! He did.
For many, one suspects, the most enlightening part of this sad saga occurs at the start. Some who have heard of the direct involvement of Africans in the Atlantic slave trade have suspected apologists’ propaganda. True, as with today’s drug trade, without a lucrative market among Arabs, Europeans and Americans, slavery would have collapsed much sooner. But there is no exaggerating the extent to which the rulers of Dahomey were involved in capturing fellow Africans for both enslavement and sacrifice. Its victims are estimated in the hundreds of thousands.
Meaher and his accomplices decided it was prudent to destroy the evidence. In Mobile, William Foster, the captain who carried out the venture, set the Clotilda ablaze and scuttled her. Soon to resign from US law enforcement to join the Confederacy, the gang’s prosecutors probably knew where the vessel lay. But with plausible deniability, they maintained there was no evidence criminality had occurred.
Five years later, at civil war’s close, the Africans hit on a stratagem to restore their dignity. They determined to acquire land and establish a realm of their own. They called it Africatown. Predictably, their leader was rebuffed by their captor.
Read the full article here.
Learn what life was like on a slave ship here.
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