In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Amistad will be hosting an exhibition related to slavery, abolition, and emancipation during its 2013 exhibition series. In addition, we will be featuring a series of blog posts from now through June 2013 highlighting items from our collections that speak to the topics of slavery and emancipation. This entry features the Christian F. Klebsattel typescript, which consists solely of two photographs – of two Africans, Cudjo Kossola Lewis and Zuma, transported illegally on the slave ship Clotilda (or Clotilde) – and a page of typewritten text.
Photographed circa 1916, these former slaves were brought near Mobile, Alabama, in 1859, long after American participation in the international slave trade was deemed illegal. The following comes from the accompanying text by Christian F. Klebsattel of the Emerson Institute in Mobile, which was published in the January 1917 issue of The American Missionary in an article titled “Slaves Captured in Africa in 1859 and Brought to Mobile and Sold the Same Year”:
“Accompanying this are the pictures of Cudjo Lewis and Aunt Zuma, two of the survivors of the last cargo of slaves brought to the United States from Africa. The importation of slaves into the United States was forbidden after 1808, but the law was evaded and slaves were smuggled in. As far as was known, the last incidents of this kind occurred in 1859, when a cargo of about 110 slaves was landed a short distance above Mobile. Some members of this original cargo, nine in number, still survive and live in and near Plateau, five miles north of Mobile. The story of the adventures of the slaves is most interesting as related to the writer by Uncle Cudjo… The voyage to this country took 72 days. The slaves had never been out of sight of land before and were greatly terrified at first and believed they would never see land again. Twice a day they were exercised on deck in chains and in small squads. At other times they were kept below, chained to the floor, with just enough room to lie down. The suffering was intense due to the almost total darkness, the heat and the scarcity of water. They were given a pint a day, one-half in the morning and one-half at night. Those who died during the voyage were simply piled overboard.
When they finally arrived off Mobile Bay the boat was towed up the bay and the river to Twelve Mile Island. The slaves landed and the boat burned to the water’s edge. The hull may still be seen and at low tide is partly exposed.
The slaves were sold at public auction in Mobile and most of them taken to nearby plantations. This was in 1859. They were held in slavery until after the Civil War and then released. Most of them settled down near their old plantations and today they and their descendents form a large part of the town of Plateau, Alabama. It is most interesting to see the original slaves and their offspring living side by side and to note the tremendous strides made in a single generation.”
After Emancipation in 1865, Cudjo adopted the surname Lewis; he led a group of Clotilda survivors in purchasing his former master’s land, where they developed the settlement African Town in northern Mobile. Here, Lewis worked as a shingle maker and then as African Town church sexton. By the early 1920s, he had outlived the other Clotilda survivors, and he achieved notoriety as the last African-born former slave living in the United States. On multiple occasions, Zora Neale Hurston visited Lewis, which culminated not only in several written works, but also the only known moving images of an African transported through the illegal slave trade.
More information on Lewis and the Clotilda survivors can be found in Sylviane Anna Diouf’s 2007 book Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America and in Hurston’s Barracoon. An interview segment conducted by Jessie Fauset with Lewis, identified as “Cugo Lewis” from Plateau, Alabama, can be found in Alain Locke’s landmark The New Negro anthology.
Posted by Andrew Salinas
(Images from the Amistad Research Center. May not be reproduced without permission.)