Last Survivor of the Transatlantic Slave Trade

The BBC this morning (25 March) reported that Hannah Durkin of the University of Newcastle had traced the last survivor of the transatlantic slave trade as one Matilda McCrear, who lived until 1940, dying in Selma, later famous for its role in the civil rights movement in the U.S.A.  Dr Durkin is researching the survivors of the Clotilda, the last U.S. slave ship. Ms McCrear arrived in Alabama in 1860. This is fascinating news.

It is interesting to note that the wreck of the Clotilda was recently found on the Mobile River. The voyage has attracted scholarly interest; your blogger particularly enjoyed the book by Sylviane Anna Diouf, Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans Brought to America  (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), which tells an enthralling story of the ship and its people.

There is an understandable tendency to focus on the slave trade and slavery in North America, and no doubt the continuing tensions US society arising from this history, together with the wealth and power of its universities, promotes this. This also means that U.S. slavery has come to seem the paradigmatic form of enslavement of Africans.  It is important to remember, however, that it is estimated that 35% to 40% of all slaves traded across the Atlantic went to Brasil, which did not abolish slavery until 1888. Of course, Brasilian slavery was not U.S. slavery, and it is worth all interested in reading the important work of Keila Grinberg; but the issue remans complex.