In Search of a New Land

Paul Cuffe: In Search of a New Land

An original play by Samuel Harps

7.30 PM Friday September 9th, 2022

(6.30 PM  Join us for a pre-performance reception, light refreshments will be served)

Dedee Shattuck Gallery, One Partners Lane, Westport MA

Free, pre-registration is required as seating is limited.

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Join us for a staged reading of chosen scenes from an original play by Samuel Harps based on the remarkable life of Captain Paul Cuffe (1759-1817). This workshop performance provides the first preview of the play for a live audience, offering new perspectives to inform our understanding of Paul Cuffe whose struggles and achievements as a person of African American and Native American descent in early 19th century New England continue to resonate today.

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Envisioning Paul Cuffe

Can you imagine the life of Paul Cuffe?

Ray Shaw, a Westport resident and graphic artist, uses watercolor sketches to help visualize the past. His graphite and loose watercolor ‘storybook’ style challenges the viewer to use their imagination to interpret a given subject.


Captain Paul Cuffe’s School: First school in America open to people of all colors

For Black History Month, local historians Betty Slade and David Cole, delve further into the history of Paul Cuffe’s school, the first school in America open to people of all colors.


Captain Paul Cuffe, son of an emancipated slave from West Africa and a native American woman, set up, with his own funds, a school in about 1797 near his home on what was known as Drift Way in Westport, Massachusetts.  No public school existed in Westport at the time.  “Cuff’s School” as it came to be known was open to boys and girls of all races. There is no evidence that any charge was made for attendance.  It may well have been the first integrated and co-educational school in America. There is no evidence to refute that claim that we have found.  This claim is repeated in the many volumes that have been written about Paul Cuffe. Articles about Cuffe during his life by his friends recall his story of that school and the importance that he placed on it. Cuffe deeply felt the disadvantages of lack of formal education and was determined to give opportunities to his children and the children of his friends and neighbors.  It is clear from deed records at that time that Cuffe’s neighbors were mostly white and known to be mostly of the Quaker faith.  It is also likely that Michael Wainer, a Native American originally named Micah Quabbin who was Cuffe’s long standing business partner, in-law, and friend, was living in the area and had 3 younger children at that time who could have attended.  The London Richmond family (of color) were also nearby.

This paper provides some information on the location of Cuff’s School and on the early establishment of public schools in Westport.


Cuff’s School

In the memoir about Paul Cuffe that was first produced by members of the Delaware Abolitionist Society and based on conversations they had with Paul Cuffe while he was visiting Wilmington in 1807, the first references to Paul Cuffe’s school appear in the following passage:[1]

“Paul had experienced the many disadvantages of his very limited education, and he resolved, as far as it was practicable, to relieve his children from similar embarrassments. The neighborhood had neither a tutor nor a schoolhouse. Many of the citizens were desirous that a school should be established. Paul proposed a meeting of the inhabitants for the purpose of making such arrangements as should accomplish the desired object. The collision of opinion respecting mode and place occasioned the meeting to separate without arriving at any conclusion; several meetings of the same nature were called, but all were unsuccessful in their issue. Perceiving that all efforts to procure a union of sentiment were fruitless, Paul set himself to work in earnest, and had a suitable house built on his own ground. A master was procured, and the school open to all who pleased to send their children. Paul’s money paid for the house, but he never demanded rent for it, nor endeavoured to obtain any extraordinary authority in the control or regulation of the school.”


Painting of how Cuff’s School might have looked by Ray Shaw


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A Conversation about the Wainer Family

Wainer and Cuffe descendant George Wortham and historian Mary Beth Start present a geographically wide-ranging conversation about the Wainer family and their connections to New York State and Upper Canada. The Wainer family became closely intertwined with Paul Cuffe and his family through marriage, business partnerships and property ownership. The Wainers helped Paul Cuffe build his connections with the Native American community. The Wainer farm is located on Drift Road, Westport. This conversation will focus on Wainer family members who, in the early 1800s, moved to New York State and further afield to Ontario, Canada.

George Hugh Wortham Jr. has collected Wainer family stories, copies of deeds, cemetery locations, family member names, and relationships to pass on to the next generation. George was born and raised in New Bedford and is a Wainer and Cuffe descendant. George moved to Syracuse to start his long sales career and found himself living 30 miles east of his 3rd great-granduncle, Gardner Wainer, and 30 miles west of his 3rd great-grandfather Michael (Micah) Wainer Jr.

Mary Beth Start will contribute information on the families of Thomas and Gardner Wainer focusing on the period following their move to Upper Canada in the late 1820s and early 1830s.  She will explore the primary source material available and some of the details that these documents reveal of the Wainers’ experiences in Upper Canada.  She will also provide some information on the known descendants of Thomas and Gardner Wainer after 1850.

Mary Beth Start is from Woodstock, Ontario, Canada.  Her interest in local history and the Wainer family began as curator of the Norwich and District Historical Society.  This interest continued into her graduate studies at the University of Western Ontario where her research focused on the construction of local historical narrative in a rural Canadian Quaker community.  She now farms with her family in the Township of Norwich.

Related documents

Paul Cuffe, His Purpose, Partners and Properties

A new book about Paul Cuffe, written by David Cole, Richard Gifford and Betty Slade, with illustrations by Ray Shaw, has recently been published by Spinner Publications of New Bedford. The title of the book is Paul Cuffe: His Purpose, Partners and Properties. The book focuses on clarifying or resolving uncertainties about three aspects of Paul Cuffe’s remarkable life: the purpose of his travels to Africa; the nature of his relationships with several important persons who contributed significantly to his success namely his father, Cuff Slocum, his business partners, William Rotch Sr. and Jr. and Michael Wainer; and the various properties that Paul and Michael owned in and around the town of Westport—including their locations, how and why they were acquired, and the purposes for which they were used. The three authors are joined by Joseph Thomas, the head of Spinner Publications, in a discussion of this publication both in terms of what’s new and how this book complements the forthcoming book by Lamont Thomas about Paul Cuffe that will soon be published by Spinner.

PAUL CUFFE, HIS PURPOSE, PARTNERS AND PROPERTIES from Westport Historical Society on Vimeo.

Happy Birthday Paul Cuffe


A slideshow for young audiences narrated by Cuffe descendant Robert Cox about the life of Paul Cuffe, written by David Cole and Betty Slade and illustrated by Ray Shaw for Westport Historical Society. Westport, Massachusetts

The Country, Memories of the Wainer Farm on Drift Road by George H. Wortham

  1. The Importance of the “The Country”
  2. Blueberries
  3. The Animals
  4. Driving
  5. Mom, the Great Organizer
  6. Baseball
  7. The Gardens
  8. Springtime
  9. The Elders
  10. Up on the Hill
  11. GaGa’s Medicine
  12. The Radio
  13. Monday’s
  14. The Flag
  15. The Wainer Stories
  16. The Farmhouses
  17. The Graves
  18. The Stone
  19. The Well
  20. The Ancestors
  21. About the Author


The Country

The Farm was known as the Wainer Farm by visitors, but by close friends and family it was known as “The Country.” It was the center of all family activity and special events. You had a better chance of seeing the family by going to Westport than to New Bedford.


1. The Importance of “The Country”

I was born on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1947. I was taken for the first time outside to stay all day on March 20. I was taken to the country to see GaGa on March 22.

George H. Wortham Jr. (the author) on Red
My goal has been to record as much of the family history as I can, from the written documents and from the oral tradition that I was fortunate to get firsthand and hand it down to the next generation. I hope that someday when we all get together, my grandfather, Michael Quaben and my uncle, Paul Cuffe will invite me to sit with them for a while and introduce me to the rest of the family and thank me for keeping their names in front of the family so that others in the family would know who they were.


The philosophy of the Wainer-Gonsalves family was “to spare the rod you spoiled the child.” We heard this statement all the time and it was held to. When Carol, my wife, and I were in Phoenix, AZ during a sales meeting a couple of years ago we took a tour of the area. Our guide started to tell the group about the customs of the Navajo. He said the Grandparents raised the children while the parent provided for the household. An uncle would administer the spankings and not the parents because this separated the confusion of the loving relationship from the necessary need for punishment. As he talked I saw no difference in the way I was raised in The Country. The only difference I saw was that any adult would administer the spankings when necessary in the Wainer family. If you were doing something wrong and an adult disciplined you, you hoped it stopped there and did not get back to Momma or Nanna because you got another spanking when you got home. The one thing that I never heard growing up was “wait until your father comes home”. Discipline was done then and there. The women spanked us but ToiToi had us work on the rock pile. The farm grew stones and we would pick them up in pails and carry them to a pile so that they could later be put on the drag and dumped in the lane to form a foundation. It was like working on the chain gang and you smarted up fast. Other things that were not tolerated by Nanna or Mom was talking back, rolling one’s eyes, and sucking the teeth or anything other than responding to what you were told immediately. Running from a whipping only compounded the whipping. Nanna didn’t forget but you would and when you got ready for bed she would wait until you were in your nightclothes and then beating would start. The kids that were not part of the proceedings had to get out of the way because anyone within reach of the switch got it. No apology was offered for the ones that received unintentional punishment because it was thought that you probably had done something at some time and had gotten away without punishment.


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