Dispelling previously held assumption that Redoshi Smith, who died in 1937 was the last surviving slave captured in Africa in the 19th Century, Hannah Durkin at Newcastle University has discovered that another former slave, Matilda McCrear lived three more years before dying in 1940 making her the last known.
According to Durkin, McCrear who was captured as a child alongside her mother and sister probably in Yoruba land in West Africa through the transatlantic slave trade died in Selma, Alabama, in January 1940, aged 83.
The historian noted that McCrear had been captured by slave traders in West Africa at the age of two, arriving in Alabama in 1860 with her mother Grace and sister Sallie. McCrear and her folks were purchased by a wealthy plantation owner called Memorable Creagh.
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Despite the attempt of McCrear, Grace, and Sallie to escape the plantation, they were unsuccessful and not even the abolition of slavery, in 1865, saw a significant change in their lives, despite gaining emancipation.
Using share-cropping as a vehicle, former slave masters still benefited from the labor of the ex-slaves paying little. McCrear’s family still worked the land, trapped in poverty.
According to Dr. Durkin, McCrear “… had a decades-long common-law marriage with a white German-born man, with whom she had 14 children,” adding her partner was probably Jewish.
By that remarkable combination, the couple’s relationship crossed boundaries of race, class, religion and social expectation. She also changed her surname from Creagh, the slave owner‘s, to McCrear.
Dr. Durkin’s research is published in the journal, Slavery and Abolition and she holds that the West African was strong willed, keeping her hair in the traditional Yoruba style while bearing facial markings.
More remarkable for her time was that McCrear in her 70s, set out travelling 15 miles to a county courthouse to make a claim for compensation for her enslavement as well as others from the same ship which brought them to the United States. Their case was, however, dismissed.
Her 83-year-old grandson, Johnny Crear, had no idea about his grandmother’s historic story. On discovering his grandmother had been enslaved, he told BBC News: “I had a lot of mixed emotions.
“I thought if she hadn’t undergone what had happened, I wouldn’t be here but that was followed by anger.”