The ship was first identified in 2019, but researchers have discovered that as much as two-thirds of ship’s original structure is still intact, including the hold where 110 enslaved people were kept during the ship’s last journey.
According to researchers, the Cotilda left the West African country of Benin in 1860 with enslaved people, with Mobile, Alabama as its final destination.
The ship is so well preserved that researchers believe that it is possible to extract DNA from the hull, which is currently filled with silt. Inside, barrels and bags containing the provisions for the enslaved people imprisoned on the ship are still intact. The space would have been a horrific place to endure an almost two-month ocean journey; it was only 23 feet long, 18 to 23 feet wide, and less than seven feet high.
“It takes a certain amount of evil to carry out something like that, to treat human beings like cargo,” Darron Patterson, the president of the Clotilda Descendants Association, told The New York Times. “We would like for that ship to be on display so the world never forgets.”
Researchers are planning to remove sediment and wood from the ship to see if any DNA can be extracted. If the DNA can be identified, it could be used to help determine where the enslaved people aboard were from and could be used to track its descendants.
The enslaved people who were aboard the ship eventually formed their own community, Africatown, in Mobile after the end of the Civil War.
Sylviane Diouf, a historian who has written about the Clotilda, told The New York Times that the discoveries will provide further insight into the communities that arose from the enslaved people on the ship.
“The ship has been incredibly important in the sense that it has shed light on the whole story,” she said. “The story of the people is the most important, and they were on the Clotilda for about six weeks.”
The ship’s final voyage was actually illegal, as Congress had already banned the importation of enslaved people more than 50 years earlier.
The Clotilda’s captain, William Foster, arrived in Mobile, transferred the enslaved people to a riverboat, and burned the ship to hide the evidence of his human trafficking. The ship has remained in that spot ever since.