The untold stories of the last two transatlantic slave trade survivors were uncovered thanks to the painstaking research of Dr Hannah Durkin. Find out more in our latest blog.
Dr Durkin’s work shed light on the lives of Matilda McCrear and Redoshi, two women who experienced the horror of being kidnapped as children from Africa and then sold into slavery in the USA.
They were among the few female survivors of the transatlantic slave trade whose voices were recorded and they show that its horrors endured in living memory until surprisingly recently. They were also remarkable women who worked hard to resist their circumstances.
Both women were child passengers on the infamous Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in the USA and which docked in Mobile, Alabama, in July 1860. As elderly women, the pair would embark on a 300-mile round trip from their homes to visit the site of the Clotilda’s landing.
Matilda then marched to Dallas County Courthouse in Selma in an attempt to claim compensation for her kidnap and enslavement.
Photograph of Matilda McCrear, courtesy of the Crear family
Matilda McCrear's Story
Matilda McCrear, the last survivor who died in 1940, was transported across the Atlantic with her mother Gracie, her three elder sisters and the man who would go on to be her stepfather.
Matilda’s family was split up immediately when two of her brothers were left in West Africa. She would never know what happened to them.
On arrival in the USA, Matilda was bought by Wilcox County slaveowner Memorable Walker Creagh along with her ten-year-old sister Sallie and Gracie. Gracie was forcibly paired with Guy, another Clotilda survivor, while her two oldest daughters were bought by another slave owner and never seen again.
Redoshi was forced to become a child bride when she arrived in Alabama and was bought by Washington Smith, owner of the Bogue Chitto plantation near Selma.
She was enslaved for nearly five years. Her husband, Yawith, was kidnapped with her and died in 1918.
Following emancipation, Redoshi continued to live with her daughter on the plantation where she was enslaved. She died in December 1936.
For many years, the last survivor was believed to be a man known as Cudjo ‘Kossola’ Lewis – who was known to both women.
Dr Durkin's Research
Dr Durkin, a Lecturer in Literature & Film in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, first uncovered Redoshi’s story while she was carrying out other research and it was while she was delving further into Redoshi's life that she found references to Matilda McCrear and pieced together her story.
Dr Durkin said: "Redoshi and Matilda McCrear’s stories are incredibly important. They were among the few female survivors of the transatlantic slave trade whose voices were recorded and they show that its horrors endured in living memory until surprisingly recently.
They were also remarkable women who worked hard to resist their circumstances. Matilda even dared to ask for compensation for her kidnap and enslavement.’
Dr Durkin’s research put her in touch with some of Matilda’s relatives. Matilda’s grandson, Johnny Crear, told of his surprise when Matilda’s story was revealed.
More recently, Dr Durkin joined up with Matilda’s grandchildren and great grandchildren to take part in a webinar organised by Birmingham Public Library, in Alabama.
Dr Hannah Durkin
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