The last slave ship to leave Africa for the US in 1860 is known as the Clotilda. However, available facts have cleared the air on the last slave survivor of the last slave ship as being Redoshi and not Cudjo Lewis. Redoshi died in 1937 while Cudjo Lewis died in 1935. These facts were made available in the course of the research, census account, and first-hand records. Dr. Hannah Durkins conducted the study, released by Newcastle University, Great Britain.
Cudjo Lewis and Redoshi were both captured at the same time. They were part of the last slave ship and the last slave survivors to make it to the US from Africa. They were part of hundreds of other African-born females and males shipped in the course of the transatlantic slave trade in the 1860s. Redoshi on arrival became known as Sally Smith, named after her slave master, Smith, in Alabama. Cudjo Lewis’ before slavey went by the name Oluale Kossola.
Redoshi was about 12 years of age when she was forcefully brought from West Africa to the Americas. She, however, lived for 110 years before passing on in Alabama. Cudjo Lewis, also known as Oluale Kossola, died July 26, 1935, at the age of 94.
Though the slave trade had been outlawed in 1807 internationally but was still practiced by some illegally. The Dahomey tribe captured Cudjo Lewis, at age 19 alongside about 120 persons and sold them into slavery. Records show that Cudjo Lewis hails from Benin, in the West African sub-region. They were eventually shipped with the last slave ship and as the last slave survivors to leave Africa for the US. The slave merchants had to smuggle the slaves into the city at night since it was illegal to bring in human cargo. To further conceal their evil act, the last slave ship, Clotilda was set ablaze with the remains later discovered.
Durkin began her investigation into the last slave survivors when she read the account of Zora Neale Hurston on Redoshi. Redoshi went into a forced marriage at the tender age of 12 to another adult slave. Her slave husband, Uncle Billy or Yawith, spoke a different language. They were both sold as man and wife to Washington Smith, the Chief Executive of Alabama Bank of Selma. Redoshi says, “I was 12 years old, and he was a man from another tribe who had a family in Africa. I couldn’t understand his talk, and he couldn’t understand me”; culled from Boynton Robinson’s memoir, ‘Bridge Across Jordan.’ Redoshi was one among very few women that survived the last slave ship, the American civil war, and the great depression.
Redoshi later had a daughter from her forced marriage. She was already 17 when she regained her freedom from slavery on June 19, 1865. Redisho, Cudjo Lewis, and other slaves acquired properties in Alabama and other states in the US. Most slaves couldn’t trace their routes back home. She and her daughter decided to stay in the Bogue Chitto plantation where she worked as a slave for Smith before. Redisho acquired property and remained there till her death at the age of 110 years.
Zona Neale Hurston’s’ works, as well as Boynton Robinson’s memoirs and footages from a film, helped to capture details of Redoshi’s life. In Durkin’s publication on Redoshi, she states, “The only other documents we have of African women’s experiences of transatlantic slavery are fleeting allusions that were typically recorded by slave owners, so it is incredible to be able to tell Redoshi’s life story,.” Speaking further, Durkin said, “Rarely do we get to hear the story of an individual woman, let alone see what she looked like, how she dressed, and where she lived.”
Sylviane Diouf, a professor at Brown University’s Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, reiterated the valuable insight into Durkin’s work. She, however, says, “There were lots of very young people on the Clotilda, and some may have died even later than she,”
Diouf has books written about the last slave survivors. And she states, “The importance is not whether she was the last one, or Cudjo was the last one… To have your story written about that is important.”
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