Descendants of the Alabama steamship owner responsible for illegally bringing 110 African captives to America aboard the last American slave ship have ended generations of public silence, calling his actions “bad” more than 160 years ago. and unforgivable’.
In a statement to NBC News, members of Timothy Meaher’s family — who still have a prominent presence in Mobile, Alabama — said what Meaher did on the eve of the Civil War “had ramifications that affected generations of people.”
“Our family has been silent on this issue for too long. However, we are hopeful that we – the current generation of the Meaher family – can start a new chapter,” the statement said. Two members of the Meaher family did not respond to messages asking for additional comment Friday.
The statement came during the release of “Descendant,” a new documentary about the people who were brought to the United States aboard the slave ship Clotilda and their families. The film was acquired by Netflix and Higher Ground, the production company of Barack and Michelle Obama.
The Meaher family has begun meeting with community leaders near Africatown, the community started by Africans in northern Mobile after they were freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the statement said. .
Darron Patterson, a descendant of Clotilda inmate Pollee Allen, said he had twice last month met a relative of Meaher’s who contacted him through an intermediary. The discussions were cordial, but didn’t delve deeply into the details of their shared history, he said.
“Our conversations were just about who we are as people,” he said. “I think it’s important that we start there.”
Patterson was president of the Clotilda Descendants Association at the time. Current president, Jeremy Ellis, said the organization had been in contact with the Meaher family by email since the NBC story aired on Sunday Today, with members hoping for face-to-face conversations.
“I’m interested in learning and seeking answers from the Meaher family about historical documents, artifacts, and oral histories that can bring clarity to descendants,” Ellis said.
The Clotilda, a wooden schooner, was the last ship known to take captives from Africa to the American South for slavery. Decades after Congress banned the international slave trade, the Clotilda sailed from Mobile on a voyage funded by Timothy Meaher, whose descendants still own millions of dollars in real estate in the city. A state park in Mobile Bay bears the family’s name.
The captain of the Clotilda took his human cargo from the ship in Mobile and set the ship on fire to hide evidence of the voyage. The people, all from West Africa, were enslaved.
Remains of the ship were discovered largely intact on the muddy riverbed about four years ago, and researchers are still trying to determine the best way to preserve what’s left of the wreck, which many in Africatown hope will be part of. of a revival of their community.
The statement said family members of Meaher “believe that Africatown’s story is an important part of history that needs to be told.”
“Our goal is to listen and learn, and we hope these conversations can help guide the actions our family is taking as we work to be better partners in the community,” it said.
The statement “falls short” because it makes no mention of two other Meaher brothers colluding with Timothy Meaher and the family’s decision to lease land to paper companies responsible for the pollution around Africatown, Ellis said.
While some members of the Africatown community have argued for reparations for Clotilda descendants, the family’s statement made no mention of that subject. The fact that the family started a conversation with slave descendants could be a lesson to other families whose ancestors were involved in the slave trade, Patterson said.
“I hope that what the Meaher family is showing here is reflected in the families of other slaves,” he said.
Reeves is a member of UKTN’s Race and Ethnicity team.