News: Descendants from last US slave ship set for Alabama – 160 years after 100 Africans were smuggled into the US

Descendants of the last Africans abducted into slavery and shipped to the US will gather this weekend in Alabama – 160 years after they were first smuggled into the state following a wager.

Family members of the Africatown founders are holding the Spirit of Our Ancestors festival this Saturday in an effort to rebuild the once-thriving community which has been largely abandoned.

Five families were involved in the event planning, and organizer Joycelyn Davis, 42, said interest has bloomed.

The sixth-generation granddaughter of African captive Charlie Lewis said people who were once ashamed to say their ancestors were sold into slavery are now finding pride in their heritage.

‘I am so proud to say I am a descendant. That wasn’t a word that I used maybe 10, 15 years ago. It was shameful as a child.’ said Ms Davis.

Africatown, in Mobile, Alabama, was established after plantation owner Timothy Meaher made a bet that he could bring a shipload of Africans across the ocean before the start of the American Civil War – despite the law banning the importation of slaves in 1808.

With Southern resentment of federal control near a peak, ‘they were smuggling people as much for defiance as for sport,’ explained historian Natalie S. Robertson.

Transported on a schooner called Clotilda, the vessel evaded authorities during a tortuous, weeks long voyage and brought 101 people to the area.
The Africans spent the next five years as slaves, Ms Robertson said, freed only after the war ended.

Unable to return home to Africa, around 30 of them used money earned working in fields, homes and vessels to purchase land from the Meaher family and establish Africatown.

‘They resolved they would build their Africa in America,’ said Ms Robertson, who wrote the 2008 book The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA; Spirit of Our Ancestors.

She will speak at the upcoming Africatown event this Saturday – which descendants hope will encourage new ties for the diminishing community.

Africatown’s peak population was estimated at more than 10,000 but currently the area has around 1,800 residents.

The area is economically depressed and has few remnants of the original settlers.

Meaher was charged with smuggling and faced a possible death penalty, but he was never prosecuted and his family remains prominent.

A state park in Mobile bears the family name and Meaher Avenue runs through Africa town.


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