1. Two ‘last’ slave ships
MOBILE, Ala. — The fog lifted just in time, and the late afternoon sun cast the river in copper. At the dock, Ben Raines waited in his 22-foot skiff. “You wouldn’t have been able to see anything an hour ago,” Raines said. The fog was gone, but Raines knew the white curtain would fall again as the sun set. Just enough time for a trip to the present and past.
Raines is in his early 50s, a splash of gray in his dark beard. He’s an investigative journalist, author and filmmaker. He also does boat charters on the side, taking visitors beyond Mobile’s paper plants into swamps known for their ghosts and ghost ships.
Raines calls the Mobile-Tensaw Delta “America’s Amazon.” It has hundreds of freshwater fish species and 18 different types of turtles. Few systems in the world have such biodiversity hidden in the eddies and canebrake, he said. Few places have kept so many secrets in those same tawny currents and reeds.
Last year, Raines published “The Last Slave Ship,” a book about his search for the Clotilda, which is fast becoming one of the most infamous ships in American history. In 1860, the schooner smuggled about 100 captive Africans into Mobile Bay, this despite a law in 1808 banning the importation of enslaved people. Soon after, the Clotilda’s captain burned and sank the ship, perhaps to conceal the…