Cudjo Lewis is considered the last survivor of the last slave ship to enter the United States. Born around 1841 to a Yoruba family in the Banté region of Dahomey (today Benin), he was given the name Oluale Kossola (Kazoola). At age 14, Kossola began his training as a soldier and was inducted into oro, the Yoruba secret male society; by age 19, Kossola was undergoing initiation. His initiation training was cut short, however, in the spring of 1860 when soldiers from Dahomey raided Kassola’s town, killing townspeople and taking prisoners. Though he attempted escape, Kossola was among the captured to be marched to Ouidah, a port city on the Atlantic coast of Benin, and imprisoned in a slave compound. He was sold to William Foster, captain of the Clotilda, a schooner built by Foster in Mobile, Alabama and later converted into a ship capable of illegally transporting Africans as slave cargo into the United States.
Kossola was among the 110 enslaved Africans to spend an estimated 45 days aboard the Clotilda. Upon entering the Mississippi Sound on July 8, 1860, Kossola and seven other bondsmen were transferred to James Meaher, brother of Timothy Meaher. When James Meaher could not pronounce Kossola’s name, Kossola told Meaher to call him “Cudjo.” Cudjo worked on a steamship and was subject to overwork and poor living conditions for five years. On April 12, 1865, Union soldiers informed Cudjo and other slave workers on the steamboat that they were free.
Upon emancipation, Cudjo left James Meaher’s plantation and took the name Lewis. Desiring to return to Africa, he and his Clotilda captives attempted to acquire reparations in the form of repatriation or land. In 1872, after failing to receive either, Cudjo and the Mobile Africans pooled their resources and purchased land from the Meahers and other wealthy whites to form a settlement, which they named Africa Town. Cudjo resided in Africa Town for the remainder of his life