HARTFORD, Connecticut – Emma Faust Tillman, who was born to former slaves and lived to see 21 American presidencies, died at a nursing home just four days after becoming the world's oldest-known living person. She was 114.
Tillman, who lived independently until she was 110, died Sunday night in the company of several family members, said Karen Chadderton, administrator of Riverside Health and Rehabilitation Center in East Hartford.
"She went peacefully," Chadderton said Monday. "She was a wonderful woman."
Tillman she assumed the title as world's oldest person on Wednesday with the death of 115-year-old Emiliano Mercado del Toro of Puerto Rico, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Her four-day reign was the shortest on record, said Robert Young, senior consultant for gerontology for Guinness World Records.
With Tillman's death, the world's oldest person is believed to be Yone Minagawa of Fukuoka, Japan, who is 114, Guinness said.
Tillman was deeply religious since childhood and always attributed her longevity to God's will, friends and family members said.
"She has a lot of faith and says, 'Whatever the good Lord wants is what will happen,"' Chadderton said after Tillman was recognized as the world's oldest known woman.
Tillman's great-nephew, former Hartford fire chief John B. Stewart Jr., has said she never smoked, never drank, didn't need glasses and only reluctantly agreed to wear a hearing aid.
Tillman was born Nov. 22, 1892, during the administration of President Benjamin Harrison. She was born on a plantation near Gibsonville, N.C., where her father was born into slavery and where her parents and grandfather were sharecroppers, according to interviews she gave the Glastonbury, Conn., Historical Society for a 1994 newsletter.
She was one of 23 children in the family, some of whom died at birth or in infancy.
Many of those who survived lived almost as long as Tillman, including a brother who lived to be 108, a sister who reached 105 and two others who reached 102.
Seeking to escape Jim Crow legislation and the economic havoc that the boll weevil had wreaked on the region's cotton crops, the Fausts — who had taken the name of their former masters — moved from North Carolina to Glastonbury in 1900.
Her father and some of her brothers got jobs on local tobacco and milk farms, while Tillman and her mother cooked, picked and sold berries and did housework for several local white families.
She was the only black student in her high school when she graduated in 1909 but said she never experienced discrimination there whether she was in class, churning butter for a local family or playing shortstop on a town baseball team.
"In Glastonbury, I didn't know if I was white or black," she said in 1994. "People were just fine, even way back then, to me. They treated me just like everybody else."
Tillman worked as a cook, maid, party caterer and caretaker for several wealthy Hartford-area families. She later ran her own baking and catering service whose regular customers included Dr. Thomas Hepburn, father of actress Katharine Hepburn.
She married Arthur Tillman in 1914, and they raised two daughters in Hartford before his death in 1939. One of her daughters is deceased and the other, Marjorie, was her caretaker and a constant presence with her at the nursing home.
Minagawa, now believed to be the world's oldest living person, was born Jan. 4, 1893. She has been living at a nursing home for several years and maintains a healthy appetite though she seldom leaves her bed, nurse Sumako Katsuki said by phone late Monday.
"When she feels good, she ventures to the dining room by motorized wheelchair," Katsuki said.
Minagawa was not available for comment because she had already gone to sleep for the night, Katsuki said.