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.