Monday, July 14, 2014

The Heartache of Cudjoe Lewis

His story is well known. The man's name is Cudjoe Lewis, and he was the last known survivor of the slave ship Clotilde, which brought him from West Africa, to Mobile Bay. He is also said to have been one of the very last people still enslaved and finally given freedom.

His story is similar to that of others, he was kidnapped when a young boy, survived the Middle Passage, sold when arriving in American. But he lived to see freedom and he lived well into the 20th century.

Thanks to the hard work of prolific writer Zora Neale Hurston, he was actually captured on film before he died in the 1930s. The Clotilde captured people from Dahomey (now known as the Benin Republic) and brought them into Mobile Bay in 1860.

Much as been written about him, and there are also a few images of Mr. Lewis that also survive. Though he lived well until the the 20th century, he never saw his beloved homeland ever again, he had longed for his return and frequently stated a desire to see home, again passage, his wish was never granted.

As I read about his life, I wanted to know more about Cudjoe Lewis, the  man. Perhaps, the fact that that this man who longed so, for his Native Africa, but was never to see it again, struck a note in my soul. Simply put, no one in the post Civil War South or North ever saw it in their heart nor kind spirit to return these captives of the Clotilde back to the land where they belonged. With time, he later admitted that he would, most likely not know his home anymore and beyond that, he would probably not find anyone who would have remembered him, either.

As I read the accounts of his life I noticed the names of his children were known, and I noticed that he did manage to pass a small piece of Africa to them. They had a mixture of western names, and also African names. Some of the names were from the West African Yoruba language.

So, I spoke to my husband about their names, and learned even more. My husband is Yoruba, and speaks 4 languages, three of which are from West Africa. He is fluent in Twi, Hausa, and Yoruba. So, I read to him the names of Cudjoe Lewis’ children, he pointed out quickly that some of the names were indeed Yoruba names that had meanings. 

And as he told me what the names actually mean in English, I felt even more about Cudjoe Lewis, and how his heart ached so to go home.

His children’s names were
Aleck Iyadjemi  Lewis (Translation of Iyadjemi: "I suffered")
James Ahnonotie Lewis
David Adeniah Lewis (Translation of Adeniah which is actually Adenirah "The Crown has Lineage")
Polee Dahoo Lewis
Cudjoe Kazolla Lewis Translation (Translation of  Kazolla, which is actually Kajola: “Let’s survive together”)
Celia Ebeossi Lewis  (Translation of Ebeossi, which is actually Ebiosi  “There is no begging.” )

How touching---his heartache continued even as he had his own American born family, and it carried through with their names. Indeed how he must have suffered.

According to the Encyclopedia of Alabama, Cudjoe lost most of the children in his family as well as his wife, as all had early deaths.

 "He and his wife had five sons and one daughter. To mark their attachment to their culture, they gave American and Yoruba names to four of them and Yoruba names only to two. Sadly, all of the children died young: Celia Ebeossi died of sickness at 15, Young Cudjo was killed by a deputy sheriff, David/Adeniah was hit by a train, Pollee Dahoo disappeared and was probably killed, and James/Ahnonotoe and Aleck/Iyadjemi died after short illnesses. Abile passed away in 1908, just one month before Aleck died. Cudjo again suffered the loss of his family."
Source of data: Encyclopedia of Alabama

In the 1920s all of the others who had survived the slave ship voyage, had died, leaving Cudjoe Lewis as the lone survivor of that historic voyage. But Cudjoe Lewis had grand children and great grandchildren who lived in the community in and around Mobile Alabama. And it is believed that his descendants still live in southern Alabama today.

Mr. Lewis died in July of 1935 and it is hoped that the descendants of this distinguished man still honor him and his legacy. 

And is it also hoped that his heartache is now settled as he continues to walk among the ancestors. 

Cudjoe Lewis with great granddaughters.


Lowcountry Africana said...

I pray that he now has peace. Thank you for this beautiful tribute to him.


Andrea Kelleher said...

I feel the same way as Toni. A beautiful tribute indeed.

Anonymous said...

Good Report Angela

LindaRe said...

He looks at peace with the great granddaughters. This is a beautiful tribute.

True Lewis said...

I always felt kinship with this family. Every time I see Lewis my heart skips. Those were some telling and loving thought out names. Glad he tied his children's name back to the Homeland for eternity. Since DNA testing I always wonder if that has been done or is a possibility for the Descendants. I hope to prove or disprove one day if I have a connection. My heart keeps coming back to Mr. Lewis's story.

Jacquelin Callaway said...

Thank you for sharing, his beauty and strength still shines today.

Delores said...

Great story. Thanks for the share.

Brittany Lewis said...

This is my grandfather I am a 5th generation

Brittany Lewis said...

This is my grandfather fifth generation

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Brittany! Wow---thank you for responding! I would love to communicate with you more! You may reach me at

Bnelsonthomas said...

I am fourth generation. Uncle Cujoe & Charlie Lewis were brothers. Charlie was grandfather of my grandmother Martina Lewis.

Bnelsonthomas said...

As far back as I can remember the story of the Clotilda was pounded into my psyche, and that of my siblings.Uncle Cujoe's brother (papa) Charlie Lewis who was grandfather to my grandmama Martina Lewis. My mother sat at these men feet and listened to their stories and passed them down through generations. When each of my children were born they were told who they were. The tales the superstitions I forever remember. My mother was born in 1917 so she got to hear first hand. I smile as I remember over home (Lewis' Quarters ) and how mysterious it felt just spending time with my grandmother and her sisters and brothers.....

Marlena Lewis said...

I do not know if you will see this. My name is Marlena Lewis and my Grandfather was named James D. Lewis. On his obituary his father is listed as Israel Lewis and I believe that we may be related. I am not sure how to get in touch with any of the Lewis family as my father did not grow up with his father directly. I am excited at the possibility that my dad is related to this great man that I read about in historic readings! I never even thought there could possibly be a connection!

Adrian Dunham said...

Hi wow I was looking up people that were his kids I am his Grandson.

Adrian Dunham said...

Hi am related to you

Adrian Dunham said...

Hi wow I was looking up people that were his kids I am his Grandson.

Anonymous said...

He is a relative of mine on my maternal side Lewis is my mothers maiden name so I am 6th generation we must pay attention and never let a monstrosity happen again