It’s not clear yet what will be done with the sunken wreckage of a 19th century schooner, discovered this month in Alabama’s murky Mobile River, that is believed to be the last ship to bring enslaved people from Africa to the United States, but Mobile resident Jerry Ward knows what he’d like to see done.

“As much of it as possible should be reconstructed,” said Ward, a black man who was among those gathering at a community centre in Mobile’s Africatown community.

There, experts prepared Thursday to release an archeological report on the discovery of the ship and the methods used to confirm the likelihood that it is indeed the Clotilda — used to illegally transport an estimated 110 enslaved Africans to the Alabama Gulf Coast in 1860.

The Alabama Historical Commission was set to share the report at the community centre in Africatown, where people freed after the Civil War, including survivors of the Clotilda’s voyage, settled. 

Community members also planned a celebration of the discovery and a commemoration of the lives of those on the Clotilda and their descendants.

People bag artifacts recovered from the Clotilda shipwreck. Laboratory analysis showed the spike is made of pure iron common to pre-1870s iron working. (Daniel Fiore/SEARCH, Inc./Associated Press)

The commission said in a recent news release that interest in locating the remains of the Clotilda was renewed after a journalist reported that he believed he had found the ship last year. Even though the ship he found turned out not to be the Clotilda, it led to the commission’s and other organizations’ efforts to locate the Clotilda’s wreckage.

A team of maritime archeology experts conducted an assessment of a previously unsearched area of the Mobile River and historical research and an archeological survey revealed up to two dozen 19th and 20th century vessels. One closely matched characteristics of the Clotilda and peer-reviewed findings concluded the wreck is likely the Clotilda.

Officials have said they are working on a plan to preserve the site where the ship was located.

Enormous research potential

James Delgado, a maritime archeologist who helped lead the team that verified the wreck, recently told The Associated Press that the ship’s remains are delicate but the potential for both research and inspiration are enormous.

Joycelyn Davis, a descendant of one of the Africans held captive aboard the ship, said she wants to somehow honour both the ship’s human cargo and the hard work of them and their descendants in forming Africatown.

Joycelyn Davis, a descendant of one of the Africans held captive aboard the ship, said she wants to somehow honour both the ship’s human cargo and the hard work of them and their descendants in forming Africatown. (Julie Bennett/Associated Press)

Ward, who said he lives near Africatown, said he knew nothing of the ship until recent news of its discovery. He hopes it can be salvaged and that efforts are made to educate people about its history.

“To know where you’re going, you’ve got to know where you come from,” Ward said.

The commission said organizations involved in the research and survey efforts include the Black Heritage Council, the National Geographic Society, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, the Slave Wrecks Project, Diving with a Purpose, SEARCH, Inc. and the U.S. National Park Service.

The yellow light on this map of the Mobile River shows the last location the slave ship Clotilda was spotted on the water, at the GulfQuest Maritime Museum in Mobile, Ala. (Dan Anderson/EPA-EFE)