Former slave Charlie Smith died of natural causes in 1979 in a nursing home in Barrow, Florida. He was believed to be 137 years old, making him the oldest person in the United States.
Smith was born with the name Mitchell Watkins in Liberia, West Africa, in 1842. He came to America as a child slave, claiming he was lured aboard a slave ship by promises of "fritter trees on board with lots of syrup."
He arrived in New Orleans in 1854 and was given the name of his owner, a Texas rancher, as well as a new birth date, July 4th. Smith gained his freedom when President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863.
(Information from The African-American Book of Days: Inspirational History and Thoughts for Every Day of the Year, by Julia Stewart.) (Photo shows Smith on His 134th Birthday, 1976. Photograph by Peggy Kehoe, courtesy of The Polk County Democrat, Bartow, Florida.)