Matilda McCrear has been identified as the last known survivor of the transatlantic slave trade. Dr. Hannah Durkin, a lecturer at Newcastle University, is being credited for uncovering McCrear’s history.
According her report entitled Uncovering The Hidden Lives of Last Clotilda Survivor Matilda McCrear and Her Family, McCrear was taken from Africa when she was just two years old. She was transported alongside her mother (Gracie), three older sisters, and a man who became her stepfather; her two brothers were left in West Africa. Durkin said that McCrear was lucky because “she got to stay with her mother and one of her sisters.” Also, “because she was only two when she was taken from Africa, she was still very young when she was emancipated.” However, that does not mean that her life was easy.
Her life was “incredibly hard” and “highlights the horrors of slavery” Durkin emphasized. McCrear resisted society’s expectations of a black woman in the US South following emancipation. For example, as Cudjo ‘Kossola’ Lewis, another survivor, had received financial assistance, she campaigned for compensation as a survivor of the Clotilda.
She died in 1940 when she was 81 or 82. Although Matilda was never married, she had a decades-long common-law marriage with a white, German-born man, with whom she had 14 children. Throughout her life, she appears to have worn her hair in a traditional Yoruba style, a style presumably taught to her by her mother.