Descendants of Man Behind Last Slave Ship Confront Legacy

Family calls actions of ancestor 'evil and unforgivable'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Oct 31, 2022 7:40 PM CDT
Family Confronts History of the Last Slave Ship
Barbara Martin looks at a display about slavery in Mobile, Ala., in 2019.   (AP Photo/Jay Reeves, File)

Descendants of the Alabama steamship owner responsible for illegally bringing 110 African captives to America aboard the last US slave ship have ended generations of public silence, calling his actions more than 160 years ago "evil and unforgivable." In a statement released to NBC News, members of Timothy Meaher's family—which is still prominent around Mobile, Alabama—said that what Meaher did on the eve of the Civil War "had consequences that have impacted generations of people," the AP reports. "Our family has been silent for too long on this matter. However, we are hopeful that we—the current generation of the Meaher family—can start a new chapter," said the statement.

The statement came amid the release of Descendant, a documentary about the people who were brought to the US aboard the slave ship Clotilda and their families. The film was acquired by Netflix and Higher Ground, the production company of Barack and Michelle Obama. The Meaher family has started meeting with leaders of the community in around around Africatown, the community begun by the Africans in north Mobile after they were released from slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the statement said. Darron Patterson, a descendant of Clotilda captive Pollee Allen, said he met twice last month with a Meaher family member. The discussions were cordial but didn't delve deeply into their shared history, he said. "Our conversations were just about who we are as people," he said. "I think it's important that we begin there."

The Clotilda, a wooden schooner, was the last ship known to bring captives to the American South from Africa for enslavement. Decades after Congress outlawed the international slave trade, the Clotilda sailed from Mobile on a trip funded by Timothy Meaher, whose descendants still own millions of dollars' worth of real estate around the city. The Clotilda's captain took his human cargo off the ship in Mobile and set fire to the vessel to hide evidence of the journey. The people, all from West Africa, were enslaved. Remains of the ship were discovered mostly intact on the muddy river bottom about four years ago, and researchers are trying to determine how to preserve the wreck, which many in Africatown hope will become part of a resurgence of their community. The fact that the two groups have started a conversation could be a lesson, Patterson said. "I hope that what the Meaher family is showing here rubs off on the families of other enslavers," he said.

(More slavery stories.)

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