Like nearly everyone who grew up in Africatown, Felice Harris had heard the origin story of her little Alabama neighborhood, passed around from relative to relative and house to house.
It was the story of a group of West Africans carried to Alabama on the last slave ship to reach the United States. After the Civil War, they established and governed a thriving community of their own.
Ms. Harris, a retired kindergarten teacher, knew that the story of the ship and its human cargo was well documented by historians, and she told it to her students each year. But she occasionally wondered how much myth had seeped into the history — because the ship, which was said to have been burned and sunk in the waters nearby, had never been found.
Last week, all such doubts evaporated. A team of researchers confirmed that a submerged wooden wreck lodged in the mud a few miles up the Mobile River from the Africatown settlement was almost certainly the Clotilda, the schooner that had carried the 110 kidnapped Africans to Alabama from what is now the nation of Benin in 1860.
Historians lauded the discovery as a crucial missing piece of the broader American story. In Africatown, a semi-isolated clutch of cottages three miles north of downtown Mobile, the news carried a particular kind of heft. Something physical, something measurable, was now attached to the tale they had heard all their lives.