Journalist Ben Raines to deliver Carleton convocation on last known American slave ship

Ben Raines will speak about his work finding and investigating the Clotilda, the last known ship to carry enslaved Africans to the United States.

Luna Schindler-Payne ’26 1 February 2024 Posted In:
Headshot of Ben Raines
Ben Raines

Environmental journalist, researcher, and filmmaker Ben Raines will deliver convocation at Carleton College on Friday, February 2 from 10:50 to 11:50 a.m. in Skinner Chapel. Raines’s talk, “Finding Clotilda – The Last Slave Ship,” details his discovery of Clotilda, the last known slave ship carrying enslaved Africans to the United States, and how the histories of those on the ship continue to be profoundly important. His presentation is connected with his book, The Last Slave Ship – The True Story of How Clotilda Was Found, Her Descendants, and an Extraordinary Reckoning (2022), which stems from his discovery of the wrecked remains of the slave ship in 2018. 

While the Atlantic slave trade was legally abolished in the U.S. in 1808, the slave trade continued illegally for decades. In 1860, a group of plantation owners organized for the Clotilda to smuggle 110 captured African people between the ages of 12 and 30 across the Middle Passage to Mobile Bay, Alabama. After the ship’s journey, it was set on fire and sunk to hide the evidence. The Clotilda’s story is particularly impactful as its survivors provided some of the best-recorded, concrete first-person accounts of the Atlantic slave trade, surviving the Middle Passage, and memories of Africa. Raine’s discovery of the wreck of the Clotilda in 2018 fueled his re-examination of the stories of the enslaved people and the enslavers, whose lives were all intertwined with the last known slave ship in America.

Raines has also won dozens of awards for his coverage of environmental issues. He is the author of the book Saving America’s Amazon: The Threat to Our Nation’s Most Diverse River System, about the looming threats to the unparalleled biodiversity of the rivers of Alabama. It was actually his knowledge of the river systems of Alabama that led to his discovery of the Clotilda, according to The New York Times. Raines is also the co-author of Heart of a Patriot with U.S. Senator Max Cleland, which follows Cleland’s journey from veteran and triple amputee to the U.S. senate. Raines is also the writer and director of the award-winning film The Underwater Forest about exploring the 70,000 acre cypress forest off the Alabama Coast. He is also the writer and producer of America’s Amazon, a PBS documentary that has been aired on stations around the country, among others. His film work has appeared on the Discovery Channel and National Geographic TV. Raines has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, The Today Show, Good Morning America, the BBC, England’s Channel 4, NBC Nightly News, and CBS Evening News. Raines has also written news coverage on environmental issues that has appeared in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and The Washington Post

Raines earned a degree in filmmaking from New York University. He lives with his wife in Fairhope, Alabama aboard the Suzanne, an 82-year-old river boat moored on the Tensaw River.

This convocation will also be live streamed—please register in advance to receive information on how to attend via Zoom. Carleton convocations are free and open to the public. Find upcoming events and archived recordings (including in podcast form) on the convocations website. For more information, including disability accommodations, call 507-222-5461 or email