By Mathew Haag, nytimes.com
A year before the Civil War, an Alabama businessman set out to win a bet with friends. The international slave trade had been outlawed for decades, but he wagered he could smuggle slaves from Africa to the United States without being caught.
To prove it could be done, the businessman, Timothy Meaher, bought an 86-foot-long sailboat, the Clotilda, and hired its builder to captain a trek to West Africa. Under the cover of night in July 1860, the Clotilda returned to the waters off Alabama with 110 slaves, carefully navigating the tributaries around Mobile to evade the authorities.
But a few miles north of Mobile, the captain and its crew grew concerned that the authorities were on their trail. They unloaded the slaves and set the boat on fire in the muddy banks of the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, the evidence of their illicit voyage, and the last known American slave ship, never to be found.
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