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Cudjo Lewis (1841-1935) The Last Survivor of the Last Slave Ship to Enter US



The man known as Cudjo Lewis (ca. 1841-1935) was the last survivor of the Clotilda, the last recorded slave ship to the United States, which arrived in Mobile on Sunday July 8, 1860, illegally and under cover of night, 52 years after the country had abolished the international slave trade.

Cudjo Lewis was born Oluale Kossola in the modern West African country of Benin to Oluale and his second wife Fondlolu. In Mobile, he was enslaved by James Meaher, a wealthy ship captain and brother of Timothy Meaher, the man who had organized the expedition.

In 1865, with general emancipation, Cujdo regained his freedom and took the name Lewis. He married Abile, a young woman who also had been on theClotilda. Like their companions, the couple's objective was to return home, but when they failed to raise enough money for the trip, they decided to stay in Alabama and create a town of their own. They purchased land and established African Town on a hill north of Mobile. 

Financial hardship forced Cudjo to sell several plots of land. By the early 1920s, all his companions from the Clotilda had passed away, leaving him as the only survivor. During the last years of his life, he achieved some fame when writers and journalists interviewed him and made his story known to the public. Alabama-born author Zora Neale Hurston filmed him, and he is thus the only known African deported through the slave trade whose moving image exists. Cudjo Lewis died of age-related illness on July 26, 1935, at about 94. Although he had always wanted to go back home, he was buried among his family in the Africans' cemetery that opened in 1876. Today, a tall white monument marks his grave. Some of his descendants still live in Mobile. 

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