Connecting Ancestral Memory Through the History and Archaeology of the São José Paquete de Africa and the Clotilda Slave Shipwrecks

February 13, 2023

On December 27th, 1794, the slave ship São José Paquete de Africa crashed into the rocks off Clifton Beach in Cape Town, South Africa, 212 of more than 500 captured Africans lost their lives. In June 2015, the Slave Wrecks Project, a partnership between the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Culture (NMAAHC), Izeko Museums of South Africa, George Washington University, and Diving With a Purpose (DWP), announced the discovery of the São José Paquete de Africa shipwreck. It represented the first slave shipwreck ever discovered that sunk with captured Africans on board.

On July 9, 1860, the Clotilda sailed into the Mobile Bay, ending an illegal mission as the last slave ship to bring captured Africans into the U.S. to be enslaved. There were 110 imprisoned human souls from present day Benin in its cargo hold. In June 2018, the wreckage of the Clotilda was located in the Mobile River.

Join Kamau Sadiki as he talks about his participation in the underwater archaeological work on the wrecks of the São José Paquete de Africa and the Clotilda as a strategic partner with the Slave Wrecks Project, SEARCH Inc., and NMAAHC. The presentation will highlight the work of DWP, a non-profit organization of SCUBA divers whose primary mission is to bring back into memory the stories of shipwrecks involved in the commodification and enslavement of Black bodies. He will also explore the intersectionality of transoceanic slave trade systems and the making of the modern world through the histories and wrecking events of the São José Paquete de Africa and the Clotilda shipwrecks, two critically important ships of the 18th and 19th centuries. Additionally, the meaning of memory and cultural heritage in the context of the Transatlantic Era of African Enslavement will be discussed, along with highlighting a few other significant slave shipwrecks of importance during this period.

Presentation Resource: Watch the National Park Service’s video depicting work done in 2013 to document and survey the São José Paquete de Africa