Sylvester Magee died in Columbia, Mississippi, in 1971. He claimed he was born a slave in 1841 and after securing his freedom was a soldier in the Union Army during the Civil War. While these claims are unsubstantiated, if true, the 130-year-old Sylvester Magee was not only the last surviving American slave, he was the last living Civil War veteran.
Max Grivno, an associate professor of history at the University of Southern Mississippi, recently discovered a box of materials on Magee that had been donated to the archives of the University of Southern Mississippi in 2013. The box of materials collected by amateur historian A.P. Andrews had been unopened for more than 40 years.
The materials includes photos, letters, notes, and oral histories. Most of the contents of the box was information about Magee’s family not the man himself. There were no materials that either substantiated or disproved Magee’s claims.
Dr. Grivno notes that in the oral history recordings of Magee conducted by A.P. Andrews, the questioner asks extremely leading questions. “Clearly, Magee is telling Andrews what he wants to hear,” Dr. Grivno states.
Dr. Grivno is the author of Gleanings of Freedom: Free and Slave Labor Along the Mason-Dixon Line, 1790-1860 (University of Illinois Press, 2011). He plans to continue his research to find the truth about Sylvester Magee.