The last slave ship The true story of how Clotilda was found, her descendants, and an extraordinary reckoning

Ben Raines

Book - 2022

"The incredible true story of the last ship to carry enslaved people to America, the remarkable town its survivors founded after emancipation, and the complicated legacy their descendants carry with them to this day-by the journalist who discovered the ship's remains"--

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Location Call Number   Status
2nd Floor 973.5/Raines Coming Soon
New York : Simon & Schuster 2022.
Main Author
Ben Raines (author)
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition
Physical Description
xvii, 283 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • Chapter 1. The Bet
  • Chapter 2. The Voyage of the Clotilda
  • Chapter 3. The King of the Amazons
  • Chapter 4. Captured
  • Chapter 5. Barracoon
  • Chapter 6. Into the Canebrake
  • Chapter 7. Five Years a Slave
  • Chapter 8. An African Town
  • Chapter 9. Africatown-The Fall
  • Chapter 10. Finding Clotilda
  • Chapter 11. Finding a Future in the Past
  • Chapter 12. Reconciliation
  • Chapter 13. Coda
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Illustration Credits
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Raines (Saving America's Amazon) unearths in this riveting chronicle the story of the last slave ship to arrive in the U.S. In 1860, more than 50 years after the Atlantic slave trade was banned, the Clotilda sailed to Mobile, Ala., with 110 people illegally taken from the Kingdom of Dahomey in present-day Benin. In Alabama, the captives were divided among Timothy Meaher, a steamboat captain and plantation owner who had arranged the ship's voyage on a bet, and his brothers. Afterwards, Meaher burned and scuttled the ship to escape prosecution. Freed at the end of the Civil War, the Clotilda's survivors set up an autonomous community called Africatown near Mobile that flourished until the 1970s. Raines profiles the founders of Africatown and their descendants, vividly describes the captives' tempestuous voyage on the Clotilda and their struggle to assimilate to American society, and explains how his knowledge of the Mobile-Tensaw delta helped him locate the wreck in 2018. He also documents how the discovery has helped to foster a movement for reconciliation between the descendants of the enslaved and their captors in Africa and the U.S. The result is an evocative and informative tale of exploitation, deceit, and resilience. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Jan.)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In 2019, journalist Raines made international headlines when he discovered the remains of the Clotilda (the last known ship to carry enslaved people to the United States), ending a decades-long search for the vessel. Here, Raines weaves together the many complex strands of the Clotilda's history to compelling effect, including the ways in which its discovery has impacted the descendants of the ship's survivors. Timothy Meaher, raised in Maine but who made his fortune as a steamboat captain and slave trader in Alabama, launched the Clotilda in 1859 as a bet that he could elude the federal ban on the importation of enslaved people. Alongside this book's account of Meaher's life, Raines also dives deep into the Clotilda's story on the other side of the Atlantic by examining the role played by the Dahomey kingdom (present-day Benin) in violently capturing and selling members of neighboring tribal nations, including those who were enslaved on the Clotilda. The most powerful parts of the book explore the ship's legacy in Africatown, a settlement near Mobile, AL, founded by emancipated survivors of the Clotilda after the Civil War. VERDICT Raines effectively blends historical research and journalism into a gripping transatlantic tale of trauma, hope, and reconciliation. An absolutely essential book.--Colin Chappell, Anne Arundel Cty. P.L., MD

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

The complex history behind the recent discovery of the last known slave ship to convey Africans to the U.S. before the Civil War. In 2019, environmental journalist Raines, who lives in Alabama, helped unearth from the muddy delta outside Mobile the sunken remains of the schooner Clotilda, which made its infamous run to the west coast of Africa in July 1860 and returned carrying 110 slaves. "This is the story of that ship," writes the author, "the people shaped by her complex legacy, and the healing that began on both sides of the Atlantic when her wooden carcass finally came to the surface." Although importing Africans for slavery had been illegal since 1807, the cost of cotton had skyrocketed, and the South desperately needed cheap labor. Timothy Meaher, the racist Alabama steamboat captain who organized the Clotilda's voyage, acted partly out of a bet, partly to make a fortune from human cargo, but mostly to defy federal enforcers. Raines weaves an impressively multilayered story, building on some of the information he provided in his previous book, Saving America's Amazon(2020). The author discusses the reckless slave-owning Southern aristocracy and the brutal slave-capturing and -running Kingdom of Dahomey (now Benin), which "may have been responsible for capturing and deporting about 30 percent of all the Africans sold into bondage worldwide between 1600 and the 1880s." Raines also focuses on the resilient community of Africatown, which the survivors of the Clotildacreated outside of Mobile in the aftermath of the war. Sadly, the survivors could not raise the money to fund their return to Africa, but their town thrived, and they forged a community on their own terms. Raines should be commended for his dogged journalistic work locating the sunken ship, which the owners tried to destroy, as well as the descendants of those original enslaved Africans. A highly readable, elucidating narrative that investigates all the layers of a traumatic history. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.