By Jay Reeves
The last slave ship known to have landed in the United States more than 150 years ago has a new owner: The state of Alabama.
A federal judge granted ownership of the Clotilda shipwreck to the Alabama Historical Commission in a one-page order released Monday.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose means the state will have final say over remnants of the ship, which was found on a muddy river bottom north of Mobile and publicly identified last year.
The Clotilda, a two-masted Gulf schooner, sailed to West Africa on an illegal trip financed by a wealthy white businessman as a nation divided over slavery was building toward Civil War. It delivered about 110 kidnapped Africans to Mobile before it was burned in a bayou in 1860 to hide evidence of the crime.
Historical accounts suggest that relatives of the businessman, Timothy Meaher, may have known where remains of the ship were located in the Mobile River before search teams found wooden and metal remains along the shore of an island. But no one else filed a court claim for the wreck, allowing the state to take uncontested ownership.
A few pieces of the ship were removed from the river and will be part of an exhibition planned to open later this year in Mobile, near where the freed captives settled after the Civil War in a community called “Africatown.” Descendants of the Africans still live in the area.