‘Descendant’: Here’s what happened to slave ship Clotilda’s captain William Foster

‘Descendant’: Here’s what happened to slave ship Clotilda’s captain William Foster
Descendants of the enslaved African people smuggled into the US by the Clotilda's captain, William Foster, in the trailer of 'Descendant' (Netflix)

MOBILE, ALABAMA: Those familiar with the story of Africatown know about the schooner Clotilda. The last known slave ship was responsible for bringing 110 captive men, women, and children from Africa to Alabama. The enslaved African-Americans aboard the ship were illegally shipped and settled near Mobile, Alabama, in 1860 and established their own community. Captain William Foster led the Clotilda at the time. He and the schooner’s owner, Timothy Maeher, participated in the illegal activity of slave trading even after the act was banned decades ago.

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Captain Foster was the last known voyager to have smuggled enslaved people into the US and to conceal the identity of their crimes, Foster and Maeher burned the Clotilda at ‘the edge of the water’ and proceeded to sink the ship in the Mobile River. It wasn’t until 2018 and the wreckage of the schooner was discovered that the topic of slave trader’s heinous crimes resurfaced. Recently, Margaret Brown created the documentary ‘Descendant’, which highlights the lives of the living descendants of the enslaved individuals on the ship, looking for validation for the atrocities committed against their ancestors. The film was produced by Barack and Michelle Obama’s media company, Higher Ground. Netflix is set to air the true-crime documentary on October 21, 2022. The recent discussion of Clotilda has caused many to wonder about the whereabouts of her captain. So here’s what happened to Captain Foster after he sank the slave ship.

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A painting of the slave trading vessel the Clotilda seen in the trailer of the true-crime documentary 'Descendant' (Netflix)
A painting of the slave trading vessel the Clotilda seen in the trailer of the true-crime documentary 'Descendant' (Netflix)

What happened to Captain William Foster?

As per an article from the Mariposa Gazette dated March 9, 1901, the captain died in his home in Mobile the same year. The article highlights Foster’s perilous journey to the African coast back in 1860 and his illegal purchase of enslaved people.

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On his journey back to Alabama, the Clotilda was detected and pursued by the watchful vessels of the United States. Foster was effective in outdistancing his pursuers and arrived in Mobile Bay two months later. The slave vessel was met by a steam boat onto which the enslaved Africans were transferred to avoid the customs officials in the US. Willaim Foster then proceeded to burn and sink the ship to conceal evidence. He was hunted by authorities for months but skillfully evaded the government until he retired from sea. 

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The ‘Descendant’ is available for streaming on Friday, October 21, 2022, on Netflix.

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