Cudjoe Lewis

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Abaché and Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis at Africatown in the 1910s.

Cudjoe Kazoola Lewis (ca. 1840 – 1935), or Cudjo Lewis, is considered the last person born on African soil to have been enslaved in the United States. The African slave trade had been legally abolished in 1808, but he was brought illegally on the ship Clotilde to Mobile, Alabama, in 1860. He lived the rest of his life near Mobile.


Kazoola (his African name) was a native of Togo, a place north of Porto-Novo, Benin, where he was captured. He was taken to the port of Ouidah where, together with more than a hundred other captured Africans, he was transported to the United States. They traveled via the ship Clotilde to Mobile, Alabama, in the United States in 1860 in an illegal slave-trading venture, as the United States had outlawed the African trade in 1808.

When the slaves were divided among the investors in the deal, Kazoola and thirty-one other enslaved Africans were taken to the property north of Mobile that was owned by Timothy Meaher, shipbuilder and owner of the Clotilde. Due to a federal investigation, the Africans were at first left to fend for themselves. They quickly built shelters and started hunting game. The U.S. officials ruled that they could not lawfully be held as slaves, but Meaher controlled them nearly as if they were slaves. Five years later, at the end of the American Civil War in 1865, slavery was abolished, and Lewis and his people were declared to be free.

Lewis and his tribespeople requested repatriation to Africa, but this was not arranged. He and other Africans established a community at Magazine Point near Mobile, which became known as Africatown. They maintained their language and tribal customs for years. Lewis was very much a community leader, meeting with prominent national leaders such as Booker T. Washington. Also called Plateau, the neighborhood eventually became a suburb of Mobile.

Cudjoe was the longest-lived survivor of all those who were brought aboard the Clotilde. He was believed to be the last person born in Africa and brought to the United States by the transatlantic slave trade. Before he died, he gave several interviews about his life, including one to the writer Zora Neale Hurston. During that interview in 1928, Hurston made a short film of Cudjoe, the only moving image that exists in the Western hemisphere of an African who was part of the transatlantic slave trade.[1] Based on that interview, Hurston identified the last eight African survivors of the Clothilde as: "Abache (Clara Turner), Monachee (Kitty Cooper), Shamber, Kanko (who married Jim Dennison), Zooma (of Togo Tribe), Polute, Cudjo, and Orsey, or Orsta Keeby."[2] Lewis died in 1935 at the age of 94, in Plateau (Africa Town), Alabama.

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