The identity of America’s last captured African slave has been revealed.
Matilda McCrear was just 2 years old when she was abducted in 1860 by slave traders in West Africa. She, her sister, Sallie; and mother, Grace, survived the long, perilous trek across the Atlantic Ocean, only to be purchased by an Alabama plantation owner named Memorable Creagh, according to Newcastle University researcher Hannah Durkin.
They attempted to escape soon after their arrival but were caught.
When McCrear passed away in 1940, she became the final African-born, American slave to die, according to a remarkable new article published in the online journal Slavery and Abolition.
After being freed, she led an extraordinary life that included a relationship with a Caucasian gentleman.
“She didn’t get married,” claimed Durkin, an American studies professor at the British university. “Instead, she had a decades-long common-law marriage with a white, German-born man with whom she had 14 children.”
McCrear, who also changed her surname to further distance herself from her slave name of Creagh, apparently fashioned her hair in an African tribal style during her adulthood.
“Even though she left West Africa when she was a toddler, she appears throughout her life to have worn her hair in a traditional Yoruba style,” remarked Durkin. “A style presumably taught to her by her mother.”
She also sported facial markings usually performed during African traditional rites.
Even after the end of the Civil War, 5-year-old Matilda and her relatives tended the plantation as sharecroppers, according to Durkin, who added that Grace apparently never became fluent in English.
During her later years in the 1930s, she along with several other surviving slaves, sought compensation for their heinous seizure but the case was dismissed.
When McCrear died, there was no obituary.
“There was a lot of stigma attached to having been a slave,” Durkin explained. “The shame was placed on the people who were enslaved, rather than the slavers.”