Happy Birthday Paul Cuffe!
Today, January 17, 2020 is Paul Cuffe’s 261st birthday.
Paul Cuffe and Traveller passing Westport Point on 2nd trip to Sierra Leone, 1815
(Text written by David Cole and artwork copyright Ray Shaw)
Why is Paul Cuffe so important to the people of Westport and the World?
- Born on Cuttyhunk to an African father and Native American mother.
- Lived in Westport most of his life.
- Became a very successful sea captain, shipbuilder and businessman.
- Built the first school in Westport open to all children regardless of color.
- Oversaw building of Friends Meeting House in Westport.
- Supported equal rights for all persons.
- Sought to abolish slavery and the slave trade.
- Sought to improve the lives of the people of Africa.
- Helped his friends and neighbors who were facing hard times.
- Was honored and praised around the world when he died.
- More than 10 books have been written about him.
Who were Paul Cuffe’s parents?
His father, Cuff Slocum, was born in West Africa about 1717. He was captured and brought on a slave ship to Newport, Rhode Island in 1728 when he was only 11 years. He was bought by Ebenezer Slocum, a wealthy farmer in Dartmouth.
His mother, Ruth Moses, was a Native American, born in Harwich on Cape Cod.
Paul’s mother Ruth Moses from Harwich married Cuff Slocum
Paul Cuffe’s Special Relationships
Paul Cuffe evolved from an unschooled child living within the Wampanoag community on the South Coast of Massachusetts into a charismatic and inspirational leader widely known and respected on both sides of the Atlantic. He was born on the island of Cuttyhunk in 1759, the son of a freed slave and a Native American woman. He was largely self-educated but attained a high level of literacy and writing abilities. He learned other skills such as navigation and shipbuilding through on-the-job experience. Within the short lifespan of fifty-eight years, Paul Cuffe became a widely respected leader in many organizations and causes devoted to abolition of slavery, bringing progress to the people of Africa and supporting Quaker groups in America and England to improve the lot of their fellowman.
Throughout his life, he built powerful relationships with key people in America, England and Africa that were most helpful in advancing the causes to which he was committed. Two of the most important of these relationships were with two very different families on the South Coast of Massachusetts: the Rotches, a prominent and wealthy Quaker family of Nantucket and New Bedford, and the Wainers, a humble Native American and African-American family of Dartmouth and Westport.
By Richard Gifford
Capt. Pardon Cook (1792-1849) Son-in-law of Paul Cuffe, resided on Drift Road, Westport. Whaling captain, commanded the June and Elizabeth. An 1843 profile in The Liberator stated that Cook disproves “the charge of his being indebted for his abilities to any white blood he possesses, for few are darker than he. He has performed three voyages from Westport as a master, and in every instance has succeeded in making good voyages, better than any other vessel from the same place, considering the amount of capital invested.”
Nathaniel A. Borden (ca. 1805-1851). Brother-in-law of Pardon Cook, lived at 26 Wing Street, New Bedford. In 1839 Borden likely became the first African-American candidate for any state elective office. The recently arrived Frederick Douglass paid the $1.50 poll tax to cast his first vote for Borden.
Transcriptions from the Minutes of the Westport Religious Society of Friends
Monthly Meetings Relating to Paul Cuffe
Requesting and being received into membership in the society:
1808 2nd month. Inform that Paul Cuffe requests to come under the care of friends, We therefore appoint Jeremiah Austen, Prince Wing, and Abner Potter to visit him and take a solid opertunity with him in order to discover the motive and sincerity of his request and fitness to become a member of our Society and report to next meeting. P. 111.
1808 4th month. The committee in the case of Paul Cuffe’s request reported that they have had several opportunities with him and he appeared to them to be sincere in what he has requested, therefore after considering thereon we do with the concurrence of the Women’s meeting receive the said Paul Cuffe under our care as a member of the society, of which Prince Wing is to inform him. P. 114
150 people gathered on Saturday September 16 2017 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the passing of local hero Paul Cuffe. The town of Westport declared September 16 as Paul Cuffe Day and proclamations from Governor Baker and other citations and recognitions were presented to mark this occasion. The symposium covered many new perspectives on Paul Cuffe and his business partner and brother-in-law, Michael Wainer, and their families.
An overview of images that have been used to represent Paul Cuffe by Carl J. Cruz
This Portrait, oil on canvas was commissioned in 1989 by the Hall of Black Achievement at Bridgewater State University. The Artist is Larry Johnson an African-American illustrator. Mr. Johnson used the 1812 silhouette as his model and brought this realistic image to life.
View slides from this presentation HERE.
View video of this presentation HERE.
Physical Description of Paul Cuffe:
“he was “both tall and stout” spoke good English, and dressed “in the Quaker style” that is, he adorned “a drab-colored suit” with a large “flapped hat”. Thomas Clarkson, The History of the Abolition of the Slave Trade 1808
“His person is tall, well formed and athletic; his deportment conciliating, yet dignified and serious.” Liverpool Mercury 1811 “Memoirs of the Life of Paul Cuffee, the Interesting Negro Navigator” 1811
Presented presented by R. Andrew Pierce Saturday January 13 2018 at the Westport Free Public Library, 408 Old County Road, Westport
A video of this program can be watched HERE.
R. Andrew Pierce presented research into the Wampanoag families of the Westport. 19th century New England genealogists largely ignored Native Americans, who despite centuries in the area, had been marginalized and forgotten. This missing history inspired Andrew Pierce and co-author Dr. Jerome Segel to compile comprehensive genealogies of Wampanoag families. The resulting massive two volume set “Wampanoag Families of Martha’s Vineyard” is a definitive work presenting over 20 years’ research at dozens of archives using vital statistics, census, land, probate, court missionary, military and maritime records.
Wampanoag Families of Westport by R. Andrew Pierce
By Tony Connors, President of the Westport Historical Society
We see her name on the street sign in the center of Westport: Charlotte White Road. She is mentioned in local history books as a healer, a midwife, a poet. But what do we really know about Charlotte White?
Let’s start with her name. The typical pronunciation of the name Charlotte is “Shar-lot” but there is a local oral tradition that it was pronounced “Sha-lot-ee.” How did Charlotte herself pronounce her name? The first clue was found a few years ago when the late Bill Wyatt, former president of the Historical Society, was researching the 19th-century account books of the Westport physicians Eli and James Handy. Bill found an entry for “Charlotty White,” a phonetic spelling of her name that indicates a three-syllable pronunciation. The second clue can be found in the town records regarding early poor relief in Westport. Several town records from 1812-1813 refer to her as “Cholata” White, which drops the “r” (as most locals from Massachusetts and Rhode Island do) and flattens the final “e” to “ah,” but clearly shows the three-syllable form. Based on this evidence, it is most likely she was called “Sha-lot-ah.”
by Richard Gifford and Tony Connors
The best-known citizen of Westport is Paul Cuffe, a master mariner with African and Indian roots who rose to prominence as a captain, ship-builder, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and advocate for civil rights and school integration. Less well known is Pardon Cook, also an accomplished master mariner from Westport, who commanded more whaling voyages than any other person of color in the nineteenth century, and whose life intersected with that of Paul Cuffe through maritime ventures and marriages.
Pardon Cook’s heritage begins in slavery. His ancestors were slaves of the Almy and Cook families of Tiverton, Rhode Island—some of whom were not only slave owners but also engaged in the slave trade in Newport. Many of the slaves and free blacks of this area intermarried with Wampanoag Indians. Both groups were socially and economically marginalized and found refuge and community with each other.