The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA
Spirit of Our Ancestors
by Natalie S. Robertson
March 2008, 272pp, 6 1/8x9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-0-275-99491-4
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-1-56720-766-8
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

Shows how African captives endured capture, imprisonment, the middle passage, and slavery in America only to persevere and found a free and still-vibrant community in America.

Debates on reparations for slavery have emerged on national and international levels. However, much of the discourse centers on the legitimate slave trade. Few people are cognizant of the fact that the transatlantic slave trade consisted of both a legal trade and an illegal trade that began after January 1, 1808. Despite statutory prohibitions against slave smuggling, American citizens continued to smuggle African captives into the United States up to and beyond the threshold of the Civil War. The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA is the only well-documented work of serious nonfiction that chronicles the transatlantic smuggling expedition of the slaver Clotilda during the slave trade’s illegal period, dramatizing the plight of her captives from the point of capture in the West African interior to the point of disembarkation in Mobile, Alabama in 1860, and tracing the specific means by which the captives triumphed over their tragedy.

Thirty members of that fateful cargo established AfricaTown in Alabama, where many of their descendants still live. In 1927, Zora Neale Hurston interviewed Cudjo Kazoola, the last survivor of the Clotilda. In The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Making of AfricaTown, USA Natalie S. Robertson uses ethnography, cartography, linguistics, and oral history to connect the story of the Clotilda captives to their origins in Africa, through their ordeals on the middle passage, all the way to the issue of reparations in the present day. She incorporates indigenous African perspectives, Hurston’s interviews, and sources such as the Clotilda’s log, meshing diverse voices into a narrative that reveals the centrality of slavery, Africanisms, and resistance in American culture even today.


"After 15 years of research, from Benin to Alabama, historian Robertson offers a detailed reconstruction of the illegal voyage of the Clotilda and the amazing effort of the Africans to re-create lives for themselves in a strange land, as well as the traditions and cultures of the land they left behind. Robertson talked to Africans on both sides of the Atlantic to explore the complexities of the slave trade and continued cultural connections. She includes photographs of the descendants in America and Africa and the ties they continue to share....[T]his book will also appeal to readers interested in how black Americans have retained African culture."—Booklist, January 15, 2008

"…[A] superbly researched ethnographic monograph of the African origins and the fortitude of survival in slave society Alabama of 75 captives, who in 1860 were illegally transported across the Atlantic Ocean in defiance of federal laws against trafficking human cargo. She engages the reader in more than just the on-board, inhumane conditions that confronted the human cargo it transported. Through diligent, scholarly retrieval of the ethnographic and cultural data in Nigeria, combined with interviews of the captives in the early part of the last century, the book tells the story of who the 75 individuals were in terms of African origins, as well as how their indomitable African spirit of resiliency sustained them through the short period of enslavement and the eventual founding of AfricaTown in Mobile, Alabama… This book is recommended for readers at the college and high school levels as well as the general reading public. "—MultiCultural Review, December 1, 2008

"… Robertson draws on African fieldwork and almost 50 interviews 'to metaphysically connect' the 'Clotilda's' captives to their West African cultures… Robertson concludes that the Clotilda captives originally were enslaved in separate raids and derived from many Yoruba cultures. She credits the 'Clotilda' descendants with resiliency, self-help, and survival based on their West African traditions."—Choice, March 1, 2009

"There are a number of fine historical examinations of Africans in the diaspora, but few offer an approach as interesting as Natalie S. Robertson's study of the persistence of African culture among slaves in AfricaTown, Alabama. The Slave Ship Clotilda is at once historical scholarship and a journey of self-discovery. At its core is Robertson's use of oral history and archival research to trace the development of one community as its members confronted the challenges of being African in nineteenth-century America."—International Journal of Foreign Studies, December 1, 2008

"Robertson skillfully traces individual survivors back to specific geographic regions and makes plausible arguments as to where they likely came from based on admittedly tenuous evidence."—Journal of Social History, December 1, 2009

"...the information provided expands our knowledge about African cultural values, attitudes, and naming practices...the study contains a good deal of useful and original data."—The Historian, October 1, 2010

"A masterful reconstruction of the slave ship Clotilda's transatlantic smuggling voyage within the context of the illegal period in the slave trade, emphasizing the extent to which her West African captives rose above their victimization as enslaved peoples by drawing on their indigenous ideas, practices, worldviews, and values. A must read for those seeking to understand, and be inspired by, the genius, the resiliency, and the spirit of our ancestors and for those desiring a new, well-documented reference on the African origins of Black peoples. Would make a great feature film for all audiences."—Dr. William H. Cosby, Educator, Entertainer, and Author of Come On People: On The Path From Victims to Victors.

"This is a brilliant historical analysis which is well written, profoundly enlightening, and daring, demonstrating the highest form of intellectual and historical analysis. Full of facts and sure to become a major work in African American history. Robertson must be commended for such a fine piece of scholarship that constitutes a remarkable achievement. Should be required reading of every American."—Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, Author of The History of Africa.

"Dr. Natalie Robertson gives a riveting account of a little known true story about the Clotilda Ancestors and their descendants. She speaks with a clear voice that is as informative as it is bold and compelling. With a researcher's skill, she lays the groundwork that enables them to speak their long-silenced truths."—Dr. Cynthia Jacobs Carter, Author of National Geographic book Africana Woman: Her Story Through Time.

"This is a long overdue and most welcome addition to the scholarly library on transatlantic slavery. One valuable contribution of the book is that it raises the voices of indigenous chiefs and scholars who have been overlooked in previous studies. Nothing surpasses this book in originality, depth, and scope. The book will help Africans and African Americans to expand and deepen their transatlantic cultural connections."—Dr. Akintunde Akinyemi, Author of Yor^D`ub^D'a Royal Bards: Their Work and Relevance in the Society.
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