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New Revelations from Old Records about Paul Cuffe’s Contributions to Building the Westport Friends Meeting House in 1813

It has been broadly accepted for some years that Paul Cuffe played a major role in overseeing construction of the Westport (Acoaxet) Friends Meeting House in 1813-14 as well as providing as much as half of the funding for that project. A recent biography of Paul Cuffe written by me and published on both the website <paulcuffe.org> and a book that I co-authored, contains this same claim.[1]

New research in the records of the Westport Friends Meeting tends to confirm the first half of this proposition – that he did play a major role in the project – but raises some serious questions about his financial contribution. A new source of information that had perhaps not been reviewed by other researchers and definitely not by me, namely the (Acoaxett) Westport Monthly Meeting Treasurer’s Report 1807-1903, contains specific details on receipts and expenditures and, in particular, those relating to the construction of the new meeting house, that provide a new perspective on this subject.

This paper sets forth the information discovered in our recent research and then seeks to present a new description of Paul Cuffe’s role in connection with this project that is less certain but, we believe, more accurate.

Paul Cuffe’s Role in Construction of the Westport Friends Meeting House in 1813

Paul Cuffe’s role in connection with building a new meeting house is partly depicted in the following excerpts from the Mens Monthly Meeting Minutes:[2]

 1813 1st month. The situation of this meeting house coming before us at this time, asked Prince Wing, Ebenezer Baker and Paul Cuffe to take it into consideration and see what alteration would be best reflecting it and estimate the cost and report to next monthly meeting. (p. 170)

 

1813 2nd month. The committee to view and examine the old meeting house in order to ascertain whether it may be best to repair it or build a new one, report in favor of building a new house to take down the high part of the house and let the lower part stand to hold meetings in while the new house is in building the new house to be forty-five feet by thirty with galerys with sliders for the accomodations of mens and womens meetings to be held separate much in the form meeting houses are generally built with a porch fourteen feet by ten. The committee find that a new house of the above description can be got built for twelve hundred dollars with working in what stuff that may be utilizable from it out of that part taking down.

After deliberate consideration thereon we unite therewith. Paul Cuffe and Ebenezer Baker is appointed to have the care of cutting some of the principle sticks for the meeting house. (p. 171)

We appointed Isaac Peckham, Joseph Tripp, Samuel Newitt, Ebenezer Baker and Charles Baker to put out subscriptions for the purpose of building a new meeting house. (p. 171)

1813 8th month. The committee that was appointed to have the care of building the new meeting house are authorized by this meeting to call on our treasury for money that may be needed for the purpose of the said house and he to pay the same as far as he is able. (p. 176)

1814 3rd month. The committee appointed in the fourth month last to superin- tend the building of the meeting house in Westport reported at this time that the House was finished and the cost had amounted to eleven hundred and ninety-eight dollars and the committee is dismissed. (p. 181)

 

In January 1813, just five years after being admitted to the Westport Friends Meeting, Paul Cuffe was appointed as part of a three-person committee, along with Ebenezer Baker and Prince Wing, that was charged with evaluating whether the existing meeting house should be repaired or a new one constructed.[3]The following month that committee recommended that a new meeting house should be constructed and suggested its proposed dimensions and estimated cost of $1,200. The Meeting apparently approved that recommendation and also appointed another committee to raise money for the project.

The original committee of Cuffe, Baker and Wing continued to have responsibility for carrying out the project and were authorized in August 1813 to call upon the Meeting Treasurer for money to pay for the project. In March 1814, this same committee reported that the new meeting house was completed at a cost of $1,198, $2 below the original estimate, and the committee was dismissed (presumably with some expressions of appreciation).

 

That is the sum and substance of this Meeting House Project as described in the Westport Mens Monthly Meeting Minutes. Much more is revealed by an examination of the Meeting’s Treasurer’s accounts and a final “Whole Cost” report presented to the Westport Mens Meeting. These two documents are reproduced below so that the reader of this paper can see for himself or herself the original sources on which the following discussion is based.

Two Reports on the Meeting House Costs

 Figure 1. Treasurer’s Report

Figure 1. Treasurer’s Report

Figure 1. Treasurer’s Report

 

 

Figure 2. Report from Other Source (to be identified)

Figure 2. Report from Other Source (to be identified)

Figure 2. Report from Other Source (to be identified)


Figure 3. Comparing Two Reports on the Costs of the New Meeting House[4]

 

 

Date

 

Recipient and Purpose

Treasurers

Reports

Whole Cost

Report

1813
Oct. 21 Paid Paul Cuffe for articles furnished

for the Meeting House

 

$220.18

Nov. 26 Paid Isaac Macomber for articles

for the Meeting House

 27.03 27.03
Nov. 27 Paid Philip Tripp on Dito 14.00 14.00
Dec. 15 Paid Thomas Stoddard for Building Meeting House 337.50 375.00
Dec. 16 Paid Prince Wing bill 70.58 70.58
Dec. 15 Paid Samuel Newitt bill 21.17 21.17
Paid Nath. Macomber bill 15.12 15.12
Paid Abner Potter bill 28.79 28.79
Paid Joseph Tripp bill 4.33 4.33
Paid Phillip Tripp bill 14.00 14.00
Dec. 16 Paid John Potter bill 3.05 3.05
Dec. 19 Paid John Mosher bill 29.17 29.17
Paid Emanuel Davol for drawing load of shingles .50
Paid George Kirby bill 12.31 12.31
Paid Ebenezer Baker bill 50.46 50.46
Paid to Charles Baker for boards 5.00
Paid to Justus Kirby for timber 1.60
1814
Mar. 16 Paid Paul Cuffe for part of his bills and the vandue bills    242.72
Apr. 21 Paid Paul Cuffe 89.00
May 5 Paid Paul Cuffe 11.00
Jun. 9 Paid Paul Cuffe 11.59
     Subtotal of payments to Paul Cuffe (574.49) 537.97
Total payments 1,190.26 1,198.08

 

As shown in the table above, many of the entries in the two reports were the same. It is the differences that are significant. One is relatively straight forward: The payment to Thomas Stoddard from Little Compton, the builder of the meeting house, that was originally recorded by the Treasurer on December 15, 1813 as $337.50 but was apparently added to in a subsequent payment that brought his total compensation up to $375.00. Perhaps this was in accord with a prior agreement.

 

It is the entries relating to payments to Paul Cuffe that differ markedly and need to be explored. On October 21st 1813 the Treasurer recorded a payment to Paul Cuffe of $220.18 for “articles furnished for the Meeting House. This was followed up by a payment on March 16th 1814, after the project was reportedly completed, of $242.72 for his bills and what are termed “vandue” bills.[5] This payment was followed by several smaller payments in April, May and June totaling $111.59, giving a total for these final payments to Paul Cuffe of $354.31. When these final payments are added to the original payment of $220.18, the total payments to Paul Cuffe in relation to the Meeting House amounted to $574.49. It is this total of $574.49 which should probably be compared with the entry at the top of the “Whole Cost” report that refers to “Paul Cuffe Bills examined of $537.97.” The two entries differ by $36.52 – not a big discrepancy.

 

In trying to determine where the idea originated that Paul Cuffe funded nearly half the cost of the new meeting house, it may be this entry in the ”Whole Cost” report that led to the confusion for others, as it did for me. Because this entry refers to “bills examined” rather than “bills paid,” it may have led to the interpretation that Paul Cuffe had actually used his own funds to pay these bills.

Another possible source of this misconception may be from the National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form relating to “Paul Cuffe’s Farm” prepared by Marcia M. Greenlee in 1973 where it is stated as follows:[6]

“Of all the possible sites identified with the life and times of Paul Cuffe, the 160 year old Friends Meeting House In Westport, Massachusetts has the largest number of close associations with this Illustrious member of the Society of Friends. He was active in affairs of the Friends and, according to his accounts, advanced $574,25 In materials toward the total cost of $1198,08 for a new meeting house.”

This statement appears to draw its numbers from the two reports presented above. The total cost of $1,198.08 is the same as the total in the “Whole Cost” report, while, on the other hand, the amount of $574.25, which she described as, according to his accounts, being advanced by Paul Cuffe, is the same as the total of the cash payments to Paul Cuffe from the Treasurers Report. We are not aware of any separate accounts maintained by Paul Cuffe that related to his involvement in the construction of the Meeting House that Ms. Greenlee might have been referring to.

The Treasurers Reports appear to provide the most reliable story and they clearly state: “Cash paid to Paul Cuffe,” not contributions in cash or kind from Paul Cuffe.

 A Report on Funds Raised for Construction of the New Meeting House

 Along with the Treasurer’s report on expenses for meeting the costs of the new meeting house, there was a parallel report on the funds raised to meet those expenses. This report is transcribed below. Many of the contributions made to construct the new meeting house came from members of the overseeing committee and the fund-raising committee. Some of these, however, may have in fact been donations collected from other members of the meeting.

Figure 4.  Contributions for the New Meeting House[7]

 

1813
Mar. 23 Received of John A. Parker for his half of note on Milk & Parker 50.50
Mar. 23 Received of Lemuel Milk for his half of note on Milk and Parker 50.50
Jul. 31 Received of Adam Allen for the full of Abial Macomber note 28.85
Jul. 31 Received of Prince Wing on his note 35.00
Aug. 4 Received of Prince Wing on his note 17.00
Aug. 21 Cash received of John Mosher 27.36
Sep. 11 Cash received of Ebenezer Baker 72.40
Oct. 21 Cash received of Prince Wing 40.00
Nov. 26 Cash received of Isaac Macomber 42.40
Dec. 13 Cash received of the Quarterly Meeting Treasurer 400.00
Dec. 16 Cash received of Prince Wing 27.69
Dec. 16 Received of Samuel Newitt for building meeting house 103.25
Dec. 19 Cash received of Ebenezer Baker 61.07
        “ Cash received of Lemuel Milk 10.00
1814
Jan. 10 Cash received of Isaac Petty 10.80
Mar. 18 Cash received of Ebenezer Baker for building meeting house 11.00
Mar. 31 Cash received of John Macomber for building meeting house 33.75
Apr. 21 Cash received of Isaac Peckham for building meeting house 15.00
Apr. 21 Cash received of John Macomber for building meeting house 23.00
Apr. 21 Cash received of Charles Baker for building meeting house 15.00
May 3 Cash received of Lemuel Milk 10.20
   Contributions from Meeting Members 684.77
Dec. 13, 1813    Contribution from District Meeting (400.00)
        Total contributions 1,084.77

The total funds raised from these sources covered essentially the total costs of the project. In addition to these transactions, Paul Cuffe is recorded on March 16th 1814 as paying to the Treasurer $128.72 which represented the amount of property sold of the old meeting house at vandue and private sale.

 

At the end of 1814 the Westport Monthly Meeting appointed a committee to review the Treasurer’s Records and settle with him. The report signed by John Howland, Daniel Wilbour and Ebenezer Baker stated as follows:

“He has according to his accounts received since the last settlement $1,710.23 and has paid out $1,691.07. Leaving a balance in favour of the Meeting of $19.16 and made a settle with him accordingly.”

The figure for accounts received since the last settlement of $1,710.23 includes the amount carried over from the previous settlement of $625.46 which, along with the receipts recorded above of $1,084.77 was used to pay for the costs of the new Meeting House and other expenses of $1,691.07 leaving the balance with the Treasurer of $19.16.

What Do These Various Documents Reveal

 One can speculate that March 16th 1814 was a kind of settlement date between Paul Cuffe and the Treasurer at which Paul paid in $128.72 and received $242.72 for his bills and vendue (auction) purchases. Since Paul Cuffe had been the primary manager of this project and apparently purchased most of the needed materials as well as selling off the remnants of the old meeting house, he had a major interest, and role to play, in seeing that the total costs of the project were kept within the original budget estimates. The final total for the officially reported costs of $1,198.08 was $1.92 below the $1,200 budget estimate.

Knowing something of the nature and generosity of Paul Cuffe as conveyed in the many testimonials and books about him as well as our own research, it is conceivable that he may have adjusted his final billings to the Treasurer to fit within the total budget and undercharged for some of the materials he provided. He clearly contributed his own time which appears to have exceeded that of any other members of the supervising committee.

Thus, while we must unfortunately conclude that there is no way of confirming exactly how much of the total financial costs of constructing the new Meeting House Paul Cuffe actually contributed, he clearly played a major role in implementing this project, seeing it through to its successful conclusion and possibly de facto covering some undisclosed part of its costs.

David C. Cole

Aug. 19, 2022

 

 

Excerpts from:

National Register of Historic Places  Inventory – Nomination Form

Paul Cuffe’s Farm

1504 Drift Road,

Westport, Mass.

Of all the possible sites identified with the life and times of Paul Cuffe, the 160 year old Friends Meeting House In Westport, Massachusetts has the largest number of close associations with this Illustrious member of the Society of Friends. He was active in affairs of the Friends and, according to his accounts, advanced $574,25 In materials toward the total cost of $1198,08 for a new meeting house — the present structure ~ In 1813 This meeting house was Intimately Involved in the African venture; the members had appointed two committees to consult with Paul Cuffe on the project. From them he received special certificates which brought him special consideration In foreign places. (In 1961, as reported In the New Bedford-Standard Times of November 6, ceremonies were held on the site to celebrate the anniversary of the first voyage to Sierra Leone.) At his death, Cuffe was buried in the cemetery beside the meeting house, although at some distance from the center of the grounds.

Marcia M. Greenlee, Historical Projects Director

Afro-American Bicentennial Corporation  December 1973

1420 N Street, N.W., Suite 101

Washngton, D. C. 20005

[1] Cole, David C. Richard Gifford and Betty F. Slade, Paul Cuffe: His Purpose, Partners and Properties. Spinnner Publications, 2020. Also, <paulcuffe.org>

[2] Westport Mens Monthly Meeting Records, 1797 June – 1836 March. Available at SCUA UMass/Amherst.

[3] It is not hard to understand why Paul Cuffe was appointed to this committee. He had a boatyard less than 2 miles away on the East Branch of the Acoaxet (Westport) River where he had already built six sailing vessels ranging in size from 25 to 258 tons displacement, and he had constructed a house at the boatyard in the 1790s that was valued at $620 in a national property assessment in 1798. Furthermore, Paul Cuffe was prevented by the blockades associated with the War of 1812 from returning to Sierra Leone in 1813-14 as he had hoped to do and also from carrying on his normal coastal trading businesses. Thus, he was “stuck” in Westport with time on his hands and perhaps looking for some good works that he could do.

 

[4]

[5] Vandue is an old English term, used especially in New England for “Auction.” See Dictionary or Regional American English.

[6] Marcia Greenlee and the application she prepared were also responsible for improperly designating the Paul Cuffe Farm or Paul Cuffe Homestead on the National Registry of Historic Places that has led to much debate among local historians and continuing efforts to correct this error as manifested most recently in the paper prepared by Cole, Gifford and Slade, “Where Was Paul Cuffe’s Homestead? And Why It Wasn’t Where Some Think It Was.” Posted on the Paul Cuffe website: <paulcuffe.org>.

 

[7] (Acoaxett) Westport Mo Mtg Treasurer 1807-1903. New England Yearly Meeting of Friends, at the Special Collections and University Archives, W. E. DuBois Library, Univ. of Mass. Amherst.

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