According to the ancient Greeks the study of history is nothing more than the narrative of those who had the good or bad fortune to witness an event and so subjectivity has always been a factor in many cases where the story of the same event differs greatly depending on the source. On this list, however, we will meet people who either had the skill or luck to survive against the odds, or simply lived naturally long lives, and so were able to tell their own version of the story without anyone challenging their facts and truth. From the sole survivor of 300 to the sole survivor of James Cook first voyage these are 25 last survivors of exceptionally significant historical events.
Isaac Smith was a commissioned officer in the Royal Navy and the cousin of Captain Cook, with whom he explored the then-New World. Smith also became the first European to arrive in eastern Australia and the first man to create survey maps of various Pacific islands and coastlines, including Tierra del Fuego in South America. Despite all his pioneering in the world of exploration he’s best remembered as the last survivor of James Cook’s first voyage in the South Pacific Ocean aboard the HMS Endeavour, from 1768 to 1771.
Thomas Stewart Armistead
Thomas Stewart Armistead was a Confederate officer who fought bravely in the American Civil War. After being wounded at the Battle of the Wilderness he was captured and placed in a camp near Morris Island where the Union authorities used him as a human shield to prevent fire from nearby Confederate artillery batteries. Thomas Stewart Armistead and 599 other Confederate officers who had also been captured became known as “The Immortal 600.” When, on November 16, 1922, Armistead died at the age of 80 he was the last survivor and member of “The Immortal 600.”
Maria Do Carmo Geronimo
Maria Geronimo became widely known as the oldest living person on earth in August 1997 when she was featured in Time magazine right after the death of Jeanne Calment, who was the oldest person in the world before her death. Maria also claimed being the last Brazilian slave, something that some historical sources verify. She’s also one of the very few people in history who managed to live during three different centuries; she was born in Brazil in 1871 and she died on June 14, 2000, at the incredible age of 129 years and 102 days.
When Ivan Beshoff abandoned his chemistry studies as a young boy to join the Russian Navy he probably didn’t imagine that one day he would become part of history as the last survivor of the mutiny on the legendary Potemkin. In 1987 Beshoff died at the age of 102 (even though he personally claimed he was 104), and with his death the last survivor of the 1905 mutiny on the Russian battleship ended every living memory of one of the most famous rebellions in modern history.
Millvina Dean holds two notable records that are unfortunately connected with one of the greatest tragedies in modern history. At two months old she was the youngest passenger aboard the Titanic when the famous ship sunk and she also became the last remaining survivor of the incident. On May 31, 2009, she would officially stop breathing, even though her legacy will continue to live on alongside the tragic story of the ship.
Emil Klein was born on December 3, 1905, in Oldenburg, Germany as Heinrich Emil Klein and died over a century later at the age of 105 (in 2010) in München, Germany. Under the Nazi regime, he participated in various hate crime activities and is believed to have been the man who told the Nazis where they should hide Hitler’s treasure, which was nothing more than all the gold and art the Nazis had looted during their reign. However, Klein is best remembered for being the longest surviving participant of Hitler’s so-called Beer Hall Putsch (1923), which ended with Hitler’s arrest and imprisonment.
Nikonha was the last full-blooded speaker of Tutelo, a Virginia Siouan language that hasn’t been spoken from the late nineteenth century. It is estimated that Nikonha was around 106 years old when he died at the Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation, in Ontario, in 1871.
The only certain thing is that John Glenn is an American legend who will be remembered for many things, including being a decorated World War II veteran, one of the first American astronauts in history, and one of the epic Mercury Seven. Glenn was also the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth and the fifth astronaut in history to go into space.
At the age of 93 he’s the last remaining astronaut of the Mercury Seven and one of the very few surviving astronauts (American or Soviet) of the Space Age that began in the late 1950s.
Josef Felder was the last surviving politician and legislator who voted against the 1933 law that helped to entrench the Nazis and died back in 2000 at the age of 100.
Josef Felder, also a Dachau survivor, joined the Social Democratic Party at the age of 20 and was elected to Germany’s Parliament for the first time in 1932. Near the end of his life he was celebrated in Germany as a symbol of democracy and freedom and the last of the 94 legislators who voted on March 23, 1933, against the law ceding parliament’s powers to Hitler’s cabinet.
Alexander Sizov is one of the two living individuals on our list and the lone survivor of the 2011 Lokomotiv Yaroslavl air disaster in which forty-four of the forty-five passengers onboard died. Sizov, who was the avionics engineer, claims that the aircraft was in excellent condition before the flight, meant to become one of the worst air accidents in modern European aviation history. He will stand in history as the survivor of this tragic flight and one of the very few humans in history who have managed to survive such a tragedy.
Albert H. Wolff
Back in his prime as a federal agent and member of the Prohibition-era crime-busting team “the Untouchables,” Wolff was the fearless agent who became Al Capone’s living nightmare. Wolff was also a ferocious persecutor of those who obtained illegal alcohol; however, once he retired from law enforcement and alcohol was legal he got involved in the cocktail lounge business in Chicago.
He is best remembered as having been the last surviving member of the highly skilled group of eleven federal law-enforcement agents, led by Eliot Ness, known as the Untouchables. He died in March 1998 at the age of 95.
Even though there’s a great dispute about the following fact, Eliza Moore is widely considered the last historically proven longest-living African American slave in the United States. Eliza Moore was born a slave in 1843, but died a free woman at the age of 105 in 1948 in Montgomery County, Alabama.
At his death on June 18, 1973, Frederick Fraske was the last surviving veteran of the Indian Wars, dying at age 101. Despite taking part in this war he stated many times during his life that he never felt any animosity toward American Indians and could perfectly understand their point of view and the difficulties they dealt with. He once stated that he felt blessed he never had to fire a shot in armed battle against the Native Americans, even though we will have to take his word for it.
Doris Eaton Travis
Doris Eaton Travis was an American dancer and stage actress among other things and became widely known at the end of her life as the last living member of the legendary Ziegfeld girls, which were believed to be the most glorious specimens of American womanhood back in the early days of the twentieth century.
As the last surviving Ziegfeld girl, Eaton Travis was featured in many books, while she was often interviewed for specials and documentaries about the Ziegfeld Follies. She would also take honorary part in benefit performances where the crowd usually paid tribute to her in standing ovations. She died on May 11, 2010, at the age of 106.
The naval Battle of Navarino took place on October 20, 1827, in Navarino Bay (modern-day Pylos, Greece), and was one of the most decisive battles during the Greek War of Independence (1821–32), and would change the map of modern Europe forever. The Ottomans were literally destroyed by a united fleet that included England, France, and Russia. Erasmus Ommanney, an English Royal Navy officer, took part in this historic battle at the age of only 13. When Ommanney died in 1904 he was the last survivor and the only man from that battle who lived to see the dawn of the twentieth century.
John the Apostle
The Apostle John is usually ignored for this remarkable feat of longevity, mainly because of his immense historical and theological significance for Christianity, but despite everyone connecting his name almost exclusively to the book of Revelation, the fact is John was the last of the original twelve disciples and witness to the Crucifixion of Christ.
Even though there have been a few disputes about the validation of the claim, Maudie Hopkins is believed to have been the last recorded and publicly known surviving widow of a Civil War veteran. Maudie Hopkins died back in 2008 at the age of 93 and she had been married to the much older William M. Cantrell, who was 86 at the time of their wedding (February 1934), while Maudie was only 19. Despite this sounding extremely bizarre, it was quite common for young women in Arkansas to marry Confederate pensioners and take care of them until their deaths.
It might sound a bit strange today, especially when we take into account the current political relations between Russia and Ukraine, but Mikhail Krichevsky was a Ukrainian soldier for Mother Russia, and is on this list as the last surviving World War I veteran of the invincible Imperial Russian Army. After the October Revolution he returned to Ukraine, where he settled and lived the rest of his life in Donetsk. He died in 2008 at 111 years old and 305 days.
Francisco Varallo was an Argentine soccer player who played with his team at the inaugural FIFA World Cup of 1930, which took place in Uruguay, and despite never winning the trophy or being considered one of the greatest footballers of all time, he made history as the last surviving player who participated in the first World Cup in history. He died peacefully in his hometown of La Plata on August 30, 2010, at the age of 100.
Ring Lardner, Jr.
Ring Lardner, Jr. was already famous from birth because he was the son of one of the most decorated American humorists ever (Ring Lardner), but he didn’t do quite bad himself since he earned two Academy Awards during his illustrious career as a screenwriter. His claim to fame, however, is without a doubt the fact that he was one of the Hollywood Ten, the ten filmmakers who refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) investigating subversion in Hollywood during the Red Scare of the late 1940s. As a result of this he lost most of his property, spent time in prison, and moved to England where he wrote and worked for various local TV series.
When Lardner died in October 2000, one of the darkest chapters in American political history closed with him, since Ring he was the last surviving member of the Hollywood Ten.
Don Mancio Sierra de Leguízamo
Don Mancio Sierra de Leguízamo was the last conquistador who took part in the Spanish conquest of Peru and we get to learn more about the great Peruvian civilization and culture before the European invasion from the introduction to his will:
We found these kingdoms in such good order, and the said Incas governed them in such wise that throughout them there was not a thief, nor a vicious man, nor an adulteress, nor was a bad woman admitted among them, nor were there immoral people. The men had honest and useful occupations. The lands, forests, mines, pastures, houses and all kinds of products were regulated and distributed in such sort that each one knew his property without any other person seizing it or occupying it, nor were there lawsuits respecting it . . .
Nicolas Savin was a French soldier of Russian descent who claimed to be the last survivor of the French Revolutionary Wars of 1789–1799 as well as the last French officer of the Napoleonic Wars. He was particularly known for his amazing skills in fencing and when he was captured by the Cossacks in 1812, he worked as a fencing teacher for the Tsarist army thanks to his talent. It is also believed that he died at the age of 126, which makes him one of the oldest people who has ever lived in the past 250 years.
Mary Allerton was an immigrant who established a permanent residence in Plymouth Colony, which we know today as Massachusetts. She was one of the many passengers of on the Mayflower, the historic ship that transported the first Pilgrims, from Plymouth, England, to the New World. She was only four years old when she boarded the ship and would die almost 80 years later, making history as the last surviving Mayflower passenger.
Teodolfo Mertel was an Italian lawyer who lived in Rome during the nineteenth century. He was also a deacon and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church and is remembered for being the last cardinal in history who had not been ordained a priest. Eighteen years after his death, through Canon 232 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law Pope Benedict XV ordered that all cardinals must be ordained priests, thus cementing Mertel’s legacy as the last non-priest cardinal in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.
Aristodemus of Sparta
Aristodemus was one of two initial Spartan survivors, since he was not present at the last epic stand of the 300 Spartan warriors who fought Xerxes’s enormous army. According to the historian Herodotus, he and Eurytus were stricken with an eye disease that forced King Leonidas to order them to return home before the last battle of Thermopylae. However, Eurytus returned to Sparta only so he would order his helot servant to take him back to the battle, where, blind and wounded, he would die heroically next to his comrades. This made Aristodemus the sole survivor of the 300 but would also stigmatize him as a coward in the eyes of his compatriots back home.