MOBILE, Ala. (WALA) – Barring a compelling reason, it is too late for anyone to challenge Alabama’s ownership claim to a sunken slave ship found along the Alabama River, a federal judge ruled Monday.
The Alabama Historical Commission in July laid claim to the Clotilda, thought to be the last vessel that imported African slaves into the United States. The owner of the vessel reportedly arranged for the purchase of the slaves from modern-day Benin and had them brought the Alabama in 1860 on a bet.
At the time, the importation of slaves had been banned for five decades.
Chief U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose in Mobile granted a request by the Alabama Historical Commission to bar any future claims. Anyone wishing to challenge the commission’s ownership of the vessel “bears the burden of establishing good cause,” the judge wrote.
The state published a legal notice asserting its claim and gave 14 days for anyone to challenge it.
“The stated deadlines came and went, and no person or entity filed a claim of interest or ownership in the Vessel,” a state lawyer wrote in a legal brief.
Historical records indicate that the Clotilda’s crew abandoned the vessel and set it on fire near Mobile to conceal their crime. The roughly 110 slaves and their descendants ended up forming the Africatown community.
The whereabouts of the ship, itself, were a mystery until former Al.com reporter Ben Raines discovered the wreckage.
After an investigation, researchers in May confirmed that the wreckage of the schooner was the Clotilda, calling it “an extraordinary archaeological find.”