In July 1860, the schooner Clotilda quietly entered Mobile Bay and headed up the Mobile River at night, evading U.S. officials and placing over a hundred captives from Africa on a waiting river steamer in what was the last known voyage of a slave-trading vessel to arrive in America. The voyage was a crime; while slavery was legal, the slave trade had been banned by Congress in 1807. The captain of Clotilda, William Foster, burned and sank his schooner to avoid being convicted of his crime. The voyage and the arrival of the Clotilda captives was soon national news, but the burned, sunken remains of the schooner, hidden in plain sight on the river, while never truly lost, were also never officially “found.”
Clotilda‘s identity emerged from the river after a detailed survey and archaeological assessment that proved its identity. Substantially intact, partially buried in cold mud and fresh water, it is the subject of ongoing study and preservation as a grim artifact of both the crime committed by Captain Foster and his co-conspirator, Captain Timothy Meaher, as well as the crime of slavery. Our panel, all of them closely involved in Clotilda‘s story, will share the story of the ship, its meaning, and what the next steps are in dealing with Clotilda‘s “discovery.”
The panel will be introduced by and moderated by Dr. James Delgado FN ’97, who has led the archaeological project to survey the river and identify Clotilda from its beginning in 2019. He will be the lead archaeologist in upcoming work on the wreck.
Dr. James Delgado
James Delgado, Ph.D. (FN ’97) is a maritime archaeologist, explorer, author and educator with nearly five decades of work on and under the water and in the discovery and scientific excavation of the human past. Currently the Senior Vice President of SEARCH, Inc., the largest private sector cultural resources management company in the United States, he was formerly the director of the maritime heritage programs of both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Park Service, President and CEO of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology, and long time director of the Vancouver Maritime Museum in Canada. He is the author of more than thirty books and hundreds of articles, including books for children, and was the host of Clive Cussler’s National Geographic International television series “The Sea Hunters” for its entire six-seasons. He currently is the senior advisor and a frequent guest on National Geographic International’s “Drain the Oceans,” now in its fourth season. Jim has led the archaeological investigations of Clotilda since 2019. He will lead upcoming archaeological work on the wreck.
Dr. Natalie Robertson
Dr. Natalie Robertson is a proud graduate of Hampton University, having received her Master of Arts degree in Museum Studies in 1990. Dr. Robertson is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Detroit Mercy where she received a Bachelor of Arts degree, and she obtained an MA and PhD in American Studies from the University of Iowa. Dr. Robertson is an award-winning scholar who has held several teaching and research appointments at prestigious institutions in the United States and Britain, including the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, the Advanced Studies in England Program, and Hampton University. Dr. Robertson is also the recipient of the National Endowment for the Humanities Faculty Research Award that facilitated her field and archival research in the Republic of Benin, Senegal, and Nigeria, in preparation for publishing her provocative book entitled “The Slave Ship Clotilda” and the Making of “AfricaTown, U.S.A.: Spirit of Our Ancestors”, nominated for a Library of Virginia Literary Award. Currently, Dr. Robertson is an Associate Professor at Hampton University where she teaches courses in African and African-American history
Stayce Hathorn is a state Archaeologist for Alabama, with the Alabama Historical Commission, who are the stewards of the wreck. She has been a co-principal investigator on all phase of work on Clotilda.
Joycelyn M. Davis is the Co-founder and Vice-President of the Clotilda Descendants Association and organizer of the Spirit of our Ancestor’s Festival. Joycelyn M. Davis is a direct descendant of Charlie ( Oluale) and Maggie Lewis both survivors of the Clotilda. Joycelyn M. Davis is a resident of Africatown, member of Union Missionary Baptist Church, Mobile County Training School Alumni Association, and a community engagement officer with Africatown C.H.E.S.S.. In 2021, Joycelyn M. Davis was one of the recipients of the Focus Forty over Forty, a recognition celebrating and honoring forty women over forty who have made a mark professionally and impacted their community.
Dr. Justin Dunnavant is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at UCLA. His current research in the US Virgin Islands investigates the relationship between ecology and enslavement in the former Danish West Indies. In addition to his archaeological research, Justin is co-founder of the Society of Black Archaeologists and an AAUS Scientific SCUBA Diver. In 2021, he was named a National Geographic Emerging Explorer and inducted into The Explorers Club as one of “Fifty People Changing the World that You Need to Know About.” He is also a member of the Board of Trustees of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation. His research has been featured on Netflix’s “Explained,” Hulu’s “Your Attention Please” and in print in American Archaeology and Science Magazine.
Dr. Ayana Flewellen
Ayana Omilade Flewellen (they/she) is a Black Feminist, an archaeologist, a storyteller, and an artist. Flewellen is the co-founder and current President of the Society of Black Archaeologists and sits on the Board of Diving With A Purpose. She is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Riverside. Her research and teaching interests address Black Feminist Theory, historical archaeology, maritime heritage conservation, public and community-engaged archaeology, processes of identity formations, and representations of slavery. Flewellen has been featured in National Geographic, Science Magazine, PBS and CNN; and regularly presents her work at institutions including The National Museum for Women in the Arts.
Finding Clotilda: Now What Happens?
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