Where Do Clotilda’s Descended Live Today?
The thought-provoking documentary “Descendants” from Netflix explores a little-known period in African American history. The Clotilda, the last known slave ship, landed in Alabama in 1860, carrying about 110 survivors before it was burned and sank. The discovery of the wreckage several years later, in 2019, had a variety of impacts on the Clotilda survivors’ offspring. While the documentary documents the community’s historical tales and reactions to the shipwreck, let’s find out how they are currently faring instead.
Who Was Timothy Meaher?
110 enslaved Africans who had been taken from Dahomey in West Africa and transported to the US were aboard the Clotilda when it docked on the Alabama Coast in 1860. Businessman Timothy Meaher and the ship’s builder Captain William Foster covertly split the captives into three groups because slavery had been outlawed in America by 1808 or so. They distributed them throughout Alabama, including Mobile and Plateau. The ship was afterwards set afire and sunk into the river, going unnoticed until 2019.
Communities dubbed Africatown and Lewis Quarters had been established in Plateau by several descendants of the ship’s survivors. This includes Joycelyn Davis, a direct descendent of the oldest survivor on the ship, Oluale “Charlie” Lewis, a.k.a. Big Poppa. He was the creator of Lewis Quarters, a Clotilda survivors settlement north of Mobile, Alabama, that is smaller than Africatown. The community’s history has been actively being preserved by Joycelyn, who has also worked to ensure that the untold tale of Clotilda’s survival is not lost.
Who is Joycelyn?
Joycelyn, a well-known community activist, has participated on National Geographic panels and worked on initiatives like the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture’s (NMAAHC) Slave Wrecks Project with groups like SEARCH, Inc. and the National Park Service. The goal of this endeavour is to collect, organise, and display the residents of Africatown’s visual and oral history.
In addition, Joycelyn is an integral part of the Clotilda Descendants Association, which is run by a descendant named Darron Patterson. Joycelyn is a cancer survivor. She apparently works as a teacher and currently resides in Prichard, Alabama, with her family. Another descendent is Joycelyn’s cousin Lorna Gail Woods, a well-known local historian and Charlie Lewis’ great-great-granddaughter.
Who Was Lorna Gail?
Given her thorough understanding of Africatown’s past, Lorna is frequently consulted by members of the community and academics. She discussed some of her family’s history and an ancestor’s interpretation of events in an interview with The New York Times from January 2018. My grandma would tell us the story so we wouldn’t forget it and so we could keep telling it, said Lorna. Since Charlie could only communicate in the African tongue, he told his son Joe Lewis the tale.
Charlie, the Tarkbar Tribe’s chief, chronicled his tale by learning to read and write at the Old Union Baptist Church in Africatown, according to Lorna. She is currently in her early 70s and resides in Mobile, Alabama. As a respected local elder, she contributes to the dissemination of information about the Clotilda survivors’ story. Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis, the third to last adult survivor of the ship, was another founding father of Africatown. Zora Neal Hurston, an African American author and filmmaker, wrote a book titled “Barracoon – The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”” on him.
E. M. Lewis
The book serves as Cudjoe’s autobiography and is a meticulous account of his time on board the Clotilda and afterwards. Even though he passed away in 1935, his descendants are still upholding his legacy in Africatown. This also applies to Emmett Lewis, Cudjoe’s great-grandson, who resides in Africatown and is making it a point to teach his girls about their ancestry. He said in the programme that his father used to take him to their family graveyard and tell him ancestor-related tales. Interestingly, Emmett revealed that his family thinks their ancestors speak to them through nature rather than spirits.
Lewis Cudjoe Kazoola
Emmett now helps historians and researchers comprehend Cudjoe’s history and how his experiences influenced subsequent generations of his family and the surrounding neighbourhood. One more descendent of Clotilda’s survival, Joe Womack, a former US Marine and reserve Major who now works as a community activist in Africatown, revealed his story in the Netflix documentary. There are undoubtedly many similar stories existing in these two communities in Alabama, which are rapidly gaining attention as a pivotal moment in African American history.
History of Clotilda
At July 1860, the schooner Clotilda, commanded by Captain William Foster, landed in Mobile Bay, Alabama, with a cargo of 124 Africans.
Captain Foster was employed by Timothy Meaher, a prosperous shipowner and steamboat captain from Mobile, who had built Clotilda, a two-masted schooner with a copper-sheathed hull and a length of 86 feet (26 metres), in 1855 or 1856.
Meaher was aware of the conflict raging among West African tribes and the King of Dahomey (present-day Beninwillingness )’s to buy and sell captured foes as slaves. Dahomey’s soldiers had been plundering interior settlements and transporting captured people to the vast slave market at the port of Whydah. According to reports, Meaher bet a different affluent New Orleans resident that he could smuggle Africans into the US despite the 1807 Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves.
Foster departed from Mobile on March 4, 1860, with a crew of 12 people, including himself, and $9,000 in gold to buy Africans.
On May 15, 1860,he arrived at Whydah. There, he had the ship modified to carry Africans using supplies he had transported.
He made the offer to pay $100 apiece for 125 Africans in Whydah.
kidnapped in a raid near Tamale in modern-day Ghana, believed to be primarily members of the “Tarkbar” tribe.
They were actually Takpa people, a group of Yoruba people from the interior of modern-day Nigeria, according to research conducted in the twenty-first century.
He talked about meeting a prince from Africa and being brought to the king’s court, where he saw certain rituals. Having successfully conducted business with the Prince, Foster wrote in his journal in 1860, “We went to the warehouse where they had in confinement four thousand captives in a state of nudity from which they gave me liberty to select one hundred and twenty-five as mine offering to brand them for me, from which I preemptorily [sic] forbade; commenced taking on cargo of negroes [sic], successfully securing on board one hundred and ten.”
Foster, fearing arrest, ordered the crew to leave right away even though only 110 Africans had been taken on board, leaving behind the final 15. As the hostages were being loaded, Foster noticed two steamers off the harbour. They encountered a man-of-war while travelling across the ocean, but they managed to avoid detection when a squall arose and they outran the ship, arriving at the Abaco lighthouse at the Bahama banks by June 30. To masquerade the schooner as a “coaster” transporting African captives within the US in the domestic coastal trade, they took down the “squaresail yards and the fore topmast” as they drew closer to the US.
Foster anchored Clotilda off Point of Pines in Grand Bay, Mississippi, on July 9, according to his journal (likely referring to Point Aux Pins on Grand Bay in Alabama, near the Mississippi state line). To meet with Meaher, he rode a horse and buggy across the country to Mobile. Captain Foster pulled the schooner into the Port of Mobile late at night and had it towed up the Spanish River to the Alabama River at Twelve Mile Island out of fear of criminal charges. He transferred the African prisoners to a river riverboat before sinking Clotilda and burning it “to the water’s edge.” The team was paid, and he instructed them to head back north.
The majority of the African prisoners were sent to the Clotilda venture’s financial sponsors, but Timothy Meaher kept 30 captives on his ranch north of Mobile, including Cudjo (aka Cudjoe) Lewis, also known as Kossoula or Kazoola. The Africans from Clotilda were regarded as chattel despite the Deep South’s racial hierarchy and the fact that they could not be officially registered as slaves because they were brought in illegally. Some of the captives, including Redoshi (later known as Sally Smith) and a man she was made to wed aboard the ship and eventually called William or Billy, were sold farther away. They were given to planter Washington Smith of Dallas County, Alabama.
Meaher and Foster were accused by the federal government of importing slaves illegally in Mobile in 1861, but the prosecution against them was dropped due to a lack of proof from the ship or its manifest, as well as probably because the Civil War had just started.
Archaeological efforts for the wreck have continued into the twenty-first century since Captain Foster said he burned and sank Clotilda in the delta north of Mobile Bay.
Locals have referred to a number of clearly visible wrecks as the slave ship. An claimed 2018 discovery of Clotilda wreckage was rejected by the Alabama Historical Commission due to “significant discrepancies between the two vessels” and an apparent absence of fire damage. The wreck was finally discovered in May 2019 by researcher Ben Raines, who provided “physical and forensic evidence [that] powerfully implies that this is the Clotilda,” according to the Alabama Historical Commission.