Devan’s grand-niece said, “Just talking to her was like connecting history. She was the last living connection to our great-grandfather.”
We often see ourselves as much farther removed in time from the American past of the Civil War and slavery, but sometimes that seeing people who lived in our era had personal lives deeply entwined with these events can show just how little time has passed.
The Robesonian reports that Maggie Devane, the daughter of Civil War veteran Henry Johnson, died at the ripe age of 111.
At the time of her death, Devane was the world’s 52nd oldest person, and the 10th oldest in the United States, according to the Gerontology Research Group, an organization that tracks and verifies super-centenarians worldwide.
Devane’s father, Henry Johnson, was born a slave in 1848 in Jackson, Mississippi. He took his freedom by joining the northern Union army during the Civil War, a fight that would abolish chattel slavery in the United States.
Johnson was honorably discharged from the United States Army in 1865 in Louisville, Kentucky, at the end of the Civil War. After the war, Johnson purchased a 200-acre plot of land in Shannon, North Carolina to raise a family on. This land is still in the hands of Johnson’s descendants.
Devane was Johnson’s youngest child, born to his third wife Nannie Bell Montgomery on November 17th, 1905. She was the last of Johnson’s 17 children.
By her 111th birthday, Devane was the last alive of her siblings.
Devane had a long and interesting life, witnessing much of American history. She was born to an ex-slave and Civil War veteran. She lived through the Great Depression, both world wars, the Civil Rights movement, and 20 US presidents.
“She had a good life,” her son Gene, now 82, said. “She lived to the fullest…she was my favorite person.”
For Doris Bonds, Devane’s grand-niece, her great-aunt was a connection to her family’s past.
Bonds explained, “Just talking to her was like connecting history. She was the last living connection to our great-grandfather.”
With her death, we lose one more connection to America’s past and risk forgetting about what truly happened in this country during her, and her parents’ lives.