July 8th, 1860

The Last Slave Ship Docks in Mobile, Alabama

On July 8, 1860, more than 50 years after Congress banned the importation of slaves into the United States, the Clotilde, a slave ship under the command of Captain William Foster, arrived in Mobile, Alabama, carrying more than 100 enslaved Africans from Ghana. Captain Foster was alleged to be working for Timothy Meaher, a Mobile shipyard owner who built the Clotilde.

Captain Foster evaded capture by federal authorities by transferring the enslaved Africans to a riverboat and burning and then sinking the Clotilde. The Africans smuggled in on the ship were subsequently distributed to those who financed the voyage, with Meaher retaining more than 30 of the Africans on Magazine Point, his property north of Mobile, Alabama. In 1861, Meaher and his partners were prosecuted for illegally importing enslaved Africans into the country but a federal court dismissed the case, citing insufficient evidence to prove that Meaher participated in the scheme.

While the government was investigating Meaher, the Africans who had been taken to his property were left to fend for themselves and provided no means of returning to Ghana. Those men and women settled along the outskirts of Meaher’s property, at a site that came to be known as “Africatown.” Many descendants of those stolen people continue to live in northern Mobile; in 1997, a group of them formed the Africatown Community Mobilization Project to seek recognition of an Africatown Historical District and encourage the restoration and development of the town. In December 2012, the National Park Service added the Africatown Historic District to the National Register of Historic Places.