The Last Slave Ship: The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning

S. & S. Jan. 2022. 304p. ISBN 9781982136048. $26. HIST
In 2019, journalist Raines made international headlines when he discovered the remains of the Clotilda (the last known ship to carry enslaved people to the United States), ending a decades-long search for the vessel. Here, Raines weaves together the many complex strands of the Clotilda’s history to compelling effect, including the ways in which its discovery has impacted the descendants of the ship’s survivors. Timothy Meaher, raised in Maine but who made his fortune as a steamboat captain and slave trader in Alabama, launched the Clotilda in 1859 as a bet that he could elude the federal ban on the importation of enslaved people. Alongside this book’s account of Meaher’s life, Raines also dives deep into the Clotilda’s story on the other side of the Atlantic by examining the role played by the Dahomey kingdom (present-day Benin) in violently capturing and selling members of neighboring tribal nations, including those who were enslaved on the Clotilda. The most powerful parts of the book explore the ship’s legacy in Africatown, a settlement near Mobile, AL, founded by emancipated survivors of the Clotilda after the Civil War.
VERDICT Raines effectively blends historical research and journalism into a gripping transatlantic tale of trauma, hope, and reconciliation. An absolutely essential book.
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