THE LAST AFRICAN SLAVES TO THE UNITED STATES

by Kofi Ayim

African Town, located four miles north of Mobile, was once known for its vessel building by the Meaher brothers. It also became an abode for the last known African slaves from Western Africa. The Meaher brothers partnered with a Captain Bill Foster in the lucrative slave trading business. Captain Foster gathered some Northern sailors and sailed clandestinely on his vessel, the Clotilde to Whydah.
This king of Dahomey, notoriously known to “Live by war and Slavery” had formed a ruthless battalion of mainly amazon women warriors to raid weaker and unsuspecting neighboring states. The tribes of Togo, locatd within walking days from Dahomey became regular prey to the king of Dahomey. The Dahomey king, in his characteristic bullying way had demanded half of farm produce from the king of Togo. The latter refuses and the former attached. Among the captured was Cudjo, later known in life as Kujjo Lewis.
He was a Togolese tribe whose king was called Adbaku (Ibaku). Cudjo and others were marched shackled in chains for about two weeks through Eko, Adache and to Whydah where they were kept in a holding cell for two weeks. One hundred and sixteen slaves sold for between fifty and sixty dollars ended up in the dark, closed belly of the Clotiled en route to the United States. After almost two weeks of sailing, the slaves were allowed and helped on deck “to stretch.” “We looked and looked and looked and we saw nothing but water. When we come from (which direction) we do not know, where we go we do not know,.”
Cudjo said. According to Cudjo, on the twentieth day of the journey, Captain Foster apparently spied on something that made him uneasy. He ordered the sails down, threw out the anchors ans commandeered the slaved back into the holding hold. Voyager came to a standstill till dark. Food was sparse, and water was dispensed twice a day. Cudjo summed up the little water given them as “Oh Loi! Oh Loi! We so thirst! Dey gis us leetle water twelve hours. Oh Loi! Oh Loi!” With a view of the Mississippi Sound and close to Mobile Bay, the Clotilde was dismasted to ensure maximum “hiding” from interested but unwanted and unwelcome parties. After seventy days at sea from the Slave Coast, Captain Foster reached Mobile on a Sunday morning in August 1859.
Under cover of darkness, a tug towed the Clotilde to “safety,” “the last slave shift was at the end of its voyage.” Meandering and avoiding authorities, the Clotilde was taken directly to Twelve Mile Island, and quietly and under darkness transferred to the R. B Taney upon the Alabama River and to the plantation of John Dabney below Mount Vernon. For eleven days, the slaves shuffled at Dabney’s place, until the steamer, the commodore ferried them to Burns Meaher’s plantation at the Bend in Clark County. Potential buyers heard of the new arrivals. As they were being sold some wept and shouted “Ele, Ele! Home, Home!” Some were sold and sent to Selma. Captain Meaher took himself thirty two slaves, (16 men and 16 women), Captain Burns Meaher 10 (Five men and Five women), Captain Bill Foster ten, Captain Tim Meaher about eight. After war broke out, the slaves were taken to the Meaher settlement at Magazine Point, the part they settled now became known as “African Town.”
After Emancipation the Africans wanted to go back to their country but had no means. Cudjo one day philosophized to his former master, “Captain Tim, you brought us fromour country where we had land and home. You made us slaves. Now we are free, without country, land or home. Why don’t’ you give us a piece of this land and let us build ourselves an African Town? But the Captain did not oblige. Cudjo and his people bought property from Meaher without concession.
They started building their community and selected Gumpa, the African Peter and Jaybee as community leaders. Gumpa was indeed a relative of the Dahomey king, who was inadvertently sold together with Cudjo and others. (Gumpa used to tell of his experience “my people sold me and your people bought me”). The free Africans gradually assimilated into the African American community.
They built a church, “the African Church” later to be called the “Old Land Mark Baptist Church”. Eventually, Cudjo was glad he came to America because he found the true God in America. At about ninety years in 1972, Cudjo had all but three of his teeth.
The last eight of the one hundred and sixteen Africans were:
Abache (Clara Turner); Manachee (Kitty Cooper); Shamber; Kanko (who married Jim Dennison, a previous slave of Captain Meaher); Zoomer (of a Togolese tribe); Polute; Cudjo; and Orsey (or Orsta) Keeby.

This story, originally narrated by Cudjo to Zora Neale Hurston appeared in the Journal of Negro History as “Cudjo’s Own story of the last African Slaver”.

Dahomey is present day Benin in West Africa, where most Haitians originated from.

This article was previously published
in Amandla February 2010

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Posted by on Feb 14 2016. Filed under Community News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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