Alabama-based reporter Ben Raines had been looking for a particular shipwreck for several months; a notorious vessel which had been scuppered and burned in 1860. Indeed, this was a ship that came with a shocking history attached. Then, on New Year’s Day 2018, Raines found some charred and rotting timbers in the Mobile-Tensaw Delta, just inland from the Alabama coastline. It looked like the 48-year-old from Fairhope, AL, might have stumbled across the relic that he had been looking for. And, furthermore, it appeared that he had uncovered a direct link with a wicked and troubled past
Ben Raines is an investigative environmental journalist for Al.com, a current affairs website which reports on all things Alabama. But the reporter is also a boat captain, and that was obviously a big help when he was searching for his 19th-century wreck. Raines was more than familiar with the meandering creeks and lazy bayous that drain into the Mobile River just north of the city with the same name.
In his role as an environmental reporter, Raines interest was usually restricted to the area’s flora and fauna, but a strange tale had made him raise his sights. A local man had told the journalist the shameful story of a ship scuppered thereabouts. And so, in 2017, Raines found himself hunting for the wreck of the Clotilda. By all accounts, this boat had an extraordinary and horrifying past. In fact, it was said to be the very last vessel known to have kidnapped Africans and transported them to the U.S. as slaves. And the most shocking element of the Clotilda’s terrible tale was that the man who planned and organized her vile voyage did so for a bet.