The Book of James is one of my favorite books of the Bible. It is jam-packed with life lessons. I was studying Chapter 4 and re-read verse 17: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” I just knew I had to use this verse for a blog post. Then the oddest thing happened. I read Jim Denison’s (Denison Forum on Truth and Culture) post of January 26, which, believe it or not, cited the very same verse. This was certainly no coincidence.
Let me share excerpts of Dr. Denison’s eloquent post (“Has America’s Last Slave Ship Been Found?”)
Slavery is an abomination and horrendous. The business of slavery was legal in the United States until Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment in 1865. However, in 1808, the US outlawed the importation of slaves into this country. Then in 1859, Timothy Meaher, a wealthy Southern plantation and shipyard owner made a $100,000 bet, wagering he could successfully deliver an illegal shipload of slaves into the harbor of Mobile, Alabama. To make sure he won the bet, Meaher spent another $50,000 to construct a slave ship that did not look like other slave ships. He named the ship Clotilda, and was designed to be sleek and fast, with a hull built to hold one hundred slaves. To manage his voyage, Meaher hired Captain William Foster, considered to be the best sailboat captain on the Gulf Coast. So in 1860, Foster set out for Africa to bring back a load of illegal slaves.
Upon reaching the west coast of Africa, 110 members of a tribe were bought by Captain Foster for $100 each. Although the Clotilda was designed to transport one hundred people, the captain assumed 10 percent would not survive the voyage. Dr. Foster miscalculated — all survived ranging in age from five to twenty-three. On the night of July 8, 1860, the Clotilda began its entrance into Mobile Bay. Learning of the shipment in advance, Federal authorities were waiting for them, so Foster offloaded the slaves onto a riverboat and sent them ashore. Foster needed to destroy evidence of the voyage, so he set fire to the Clotilda and sank it in the middle of the Mobile Bay. Despite investigations, the loss of the ship and the human cargo it held meant that Timothy Meaher and Captain Foster were never convicted.
The legend of America’s last slave ship was passed down from generation to generation among the slaves it transported to their descendants, but no proof of the ship existed. Recently, however, an environmental reporter named Ben Raines began searching for its remains. During unusually low tides, Ben found a submerged wreck. It lies where Captain Foster said he sunk the ship, its construction matches the time period, and it appears to have been burnt. While more tests and investigation is required to conclusively identify the vessel, the evidence thus far is “very compelling.”
Descendants of the slaves transported on the Clotilda were grateful for the discovery. It proves the history told to them throughout the years was not made up. The victims enslaved on Meaher’s plantation were emancipated in 1865. They joined other former slaves and began returning to the place where they were originally unloaded.
In 1866, they founded Africatown as the first town in America to be built by African slaves with laws designed to resemble the laws of an African tribe. They established what became the oldest public school to be accredited in Mobile County. The town produced baseball greats Billy Williams and Hank Aaron. Their community was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012.
The story Dr. Denison related is gut-wrenching, not only because it deals with the abominable practice of slavery, but because the guilt of the crime extends far beyond Meaher and Foster. Who made the bet with Meaher? Who heard the bet but didn’t tell authorities? Who helped build the slave ship? Who helped Foster sail it to Africa and back? Who knew the story of the illegal slaves on Meaher’s plantation but didn’t intervene?
God says in James 4:17, “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Today we can’t help those victims enslaved centuries ago, but we can have an impact on the millions who are in slavery around the world and those enslaved in human trafficking. In every major city of America, there are hundreds of young boys and girls on the streets victims of human trafficking. There are hundreds of thousands illiterate, who live in poverty, homeless, and live without a meal.
You and I can’t help everyone, but that should not stop us from helping those we can. Are we being light in this dark world? Darkness can either be our fault or our opportunity.
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world.”