(Re)creating Social Life Out of Social Death:
Cross-Cultural Alliances in the Circum-Atlantic, 1760-1815
A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree
Doctor of Philosophy
by Jeffrey Charles Gagnon
Publication Date 2012
Chapter Three: Paul Cuffe’s Friendly Society in Sierra Leone…………………………… 134
In December of 1811, Paul Cuffe, the black-Native ship captain and merchant
from Massachusetts, met with a downtrodden group of settlers in the British colony of Sierra Leone, Africa. Together they created a formal economic coalition dedicated to their mutual empowerment. Their membership included a culturally and religiously diverse group of ex-slaves and free blacks, many of whom had escaped persecution in the southern U.S. colonies during the American Revolution by pledging loyalty to the British. Several Jamaican Maroons, exiled by British forces from the West Indies before
the turn of the century, also constituted membership in the assembly. In conjunction with community leaders, Cuffe attempted to collectively empower the settlers to challenge local white authorities. The colonial government, backed by the Crown, had systematically disenfranchised and alienated settlers since they first arrived in 1792. It placed a stranglehold on black businesses and kept many settlers in a state approximating indentured servitude. Agreeing to minimize their denominational differences in favor of economic and political solidarity, the settlers called themselves the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone.
Conclusion: The Alienation of Mary Wainer Masters……………………………………….. 179
In December of 1816, Mary Wainer Masters continued to grieve a series of
interpersonal and cultural losses in her life. These included the recent death of her father, the family patriarch Michael Wainer, and the disappearance of her husband, John Masters, one of Cuffe’s trusted sailors who recently fled to Philadelphia without explanation.77 Adding to these woes, in 1813 she relocated to upstate New York, away from the interpersonal and cultural networks of which she was intimately connected. Collectively, these losses become apparent in her short letter to her uncle, Paul Cuffe, which she wrote in the fall of 1816. In the letter, Masters attends to various business
concerns and reflections on her resettlement, but much of the content focuses on her sadness. She asks Cuffe to send “love to aunt Else and aunt Lidia and all enquiring friends” and adds, “I want to see you all once more. It wont be a joy to me. Westport looks very lonesome and desolate to me. I spend many hours in lonesomeness.
The only thing she looks forward to in returning home is “to dig Clambs again if I live so don’t Destroy them all if you can help it.” In the conclusion to this project, I analyze a rare document penned from the hand of a woman born into several generations of black-Native families in southeastern Massachusetts.