By JAY REEVES, Associated Press
Descendants of the Alabama steamboat owner responsible for illegally transporting 110 African captives to America aboard the last American slave ship have ended generations of public silence, calling his actions more than 160 years ago “evil and unforgivable.”
In a statement released to NBC News, members of Timothy Meaher’s family — which is still prominent in Mobile, Alabama — said what Meaher did on the eve of the Civil War “had consequences that affected generations of people.”
“Our family has been silent on this matter for too long. But we hope that we – the current generation of the Meaher family – can begin a new chapter,” the statement read. Two members of Meaher’s family did not respond to messages seeking further comment Friday.
The announcement came amid 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, Barack and Michelle Obama’s production company.
The Meaher family began meeting with community leaders around Africatown, a community founded by Africans in north Mobile after they were freed from slavery at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the statement said.
Darron Patterson, a descendant of captive Clotilda Pollee Allen, said he met twice last month with a member of the Meaher family who contacted him through an intermediary. The discussions were cordial but did not delve 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, and members were hoping for face-to-face interviews.
“I’m interested in learning and seeking answers from the Meaher family about historical documents, artifacts and oral histories that can shed light on posterity,” Ellis said.
The Clotilda, a wooden schooner, was the last known ship to bring captives to the American South from Africa for enslavement. Decades after Congress outlawed the international slave trade, the Clotilda set sail from Mobile on a trip financed by Timothy Meaher, whose descendants still own millions of dollars worth of real estate throughout the city. A state park in Mobile Bay bears the family’s name.
Captain Clotildy took his human cargo off the ship at Mobile and set fire to the vessel to hide evidence of the voyage. The people, all from West Africa, were enslaved.
The remains of the ship were discovered mostly intact on the muddy riverbed about four years ago, and researchers are still trying to figure out the best way to preserve what’s left of the wreck, which many in Africatown hope will become part of their community’s revitalization. .
The statement said members of the Meaher family “believe the story of Africatown 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 steps our family takes as we strive to be better partners in the community,” the statement said.
The statement “doesn’t fit” because it doesn’t mention the other two Meaher brothers, who conspired 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 advocated reparations for Clotilda’s descendants, the family’s statement did not mention the topic. The fact that the family started a conversation with descendants of slaves could be a lesson for other families whose ancestors were involved in the slave trade, Patterson said.
“I hope what the Meaher family is showing here will shake the families of other slaveholders,” he said.