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Revealed: the Last African-Born Slave in US

Sally Smith, aka Redoshi, arrived on Clotilda slave ship as a child: researcher
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 3, 2019 10:50 AM CDT
The flags of the nations of Benin and Togo, the west African homes of the survivors of the Clotilda, are displayed on a monument in Mobile, Ala., on Jan. 29, 2019.   (AP Photo/Julie Bennett)

(Newser) – The last known survivor of the trans-Atlantic slave ships lived out her final days on the Alabama plantation that had formerly been her prison. Sally Smith, kidnapped by slave traders from a village in what is now Benin in 1860, died in 1937—two years after the former slave previously identified as the last African-born slave in the Americas, according to Newcastle University's Hannah Durkin. The researcher hadn't been looking for Smith's story but kept coming across the name Redoshi among firsthand accounts, census records, and other archival items. Durkin was then able to trace her from Africa to Dallas County, Ala., as a passenger on the Clotilda, the last slave ship to arrive in the US. Around age 12, Redoshi was bought by Bank of Selma founder Washington Smith, who took her to his Bogue Chitto plantation and rechristened her Sally Smith, per CNN.

Still, Redoshi maintained her African culture and identity as she worked in the house and fields, as well as after emancipation in 1865. Durkin—whose study in the journal Slavery & Abolition references a newspaper article, memoir, and film—notes Redoshi passed some of her native language to a daughter who lived at the plantation, along with Redoshi's husband, who died in the 1910s or 1920s. Redoshi died herself in 1937 at age 89 or 90, but "her resistance, either through her effort to own her own land in America or in smaller acts like keeping her West African beliefs alive, taking care in her appearance and her home, and the joy she took in meeting a fellow African in the 1930s, help to show who she was," Durkin says, per the Newcastle release. "It's only one voice, but this gives us a semblance of a voice for those who were otherwise lost," she adds, per the BBC. (An AL.com reporter thought he found the Clotilda wreck—but it turned out not to be.)

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