Cudjo (Cudjoe) Kazoola Lewis

Cudjo (Cudjoe) Kazoola Lewis – oil on linen, 16X20

The raid that took Oluale Kossola from freedom to enslavement a world away from his West African village wasn’t supposed to happen. It was the middle of the 19th century, and the transatlantic slaved trade had been banned on both sides of the ocean.

But Mr. Kossola, known in America as  Cudjo (Cudjoe) Kazoola Lewis, remembered the predawn raid on his village by the king of Dahomey, a powerful African kingdom in what is now modern-day Benin. Dahomey was a 19th century stronghold for West African slavery.

Mr. Kossola and other captives were marched from their village to the port at Whydah in Dahomey to be sold to an American businessman and ship builder. Both the raid and sale were illegal under U.S. and international law.

Known in America as Cudjo Lewis, Mr. Kossola and his 109 co-captives are believed to be the last Africans to enter the U.S. through the transatlantic slave trade. They were smuggled into Mobile Bay in Alabama in 1860, two years before President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Remains of the ship that brought them to the U.S., the Clotilda, were discovered in 2019. The schooner was submerged in the Mobile River where the owner had her burned and scuttled in 1860 to cover up his crime. The discovery is a reminder of what 110 men, women and children endured in the dark hole of a cargo ship on a voyage though the Middle Passage.

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