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Life of Paul Cuffee Essay

More than for 500 years, people of African origin have shaped the course of not only American but the history of the whole world. We are proud of many African-Americans that had put so much hard work to make our society as good and developed as it is nowadays. There are lots of Blacks, who are very famous for their deeds and deserve to be remembered as honorable society members, such as Phyllis Wheatley, Benjamin Banneker, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Jacobs and others .

The main objective of this paper will be the analyses of life and work of Paul Cuffee. Paul Cuffee was born on the 17th of January on Chuttyhunk Island in Southeastern Massachusetts, as a free child and a son of an African father and Native American mother. His father, named Kofi, was a member of the West-African tribe known as Ashanti tribe in Ghana. He was captured there and brought to America when he was ten. He was made a slave of Ebenezer Slocum, a Quaker of Dartmouth, Massachusetts, but the skills of good carpenter helped Kofi (Cuffe) to buy his freedom. He even managed to educate himself and later married to Ruth Moses, who was a Wampanoag Indian from Massachusetts.

The Native Americans were not enslaved, so their children were born free. Paul did not want to take the name of his father’s possessor and chose his father’s name, which was Cuffe (or Cuffee). His family also owned a 116-acre farm in Westport, which was very rare at that time as most of the other African people were enslaved. The family was large and counted ten children: six daughters and four sons (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). After the death of his father, Paul Cuffee, at the age of 16 and with the knowledge only of an alphabet, already had many ambitious dreams such as getting an education and having a career in shipping industry. The boy always showed a kinship to navigation, boatbuilding and trade. When he was a teenager he constructed small boats.

This hobby ended in trading among the islands of Massachusetts (“Paul Cuffee (1759-1817)”, 2013). He started to do the job of an ordinary seaman on fishing and whaling boats – this was in New Bedford, Massachusetts. He was caught and held as a prisoner by British soldiers for three month during the Revolutionary War, but once he was released, he managed to start minor coastal trading. Paul bought some ships together with his sister’s husband Michael Wainer, who was a Native American. Because of his partner was afraid to sail big sea distances, in 1779 Cuffee tried to deliver the cargo to Nantucket alone, but he was waylaid by pirates.

He continued to ship aboard a whaler owned by the Quaker merchants, prominent Rotch family and whalers of New Bedford. Despite the fact that pirates were very active those days and have attached the local sailors a lot, Paul’s business was prospering (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Cuffe’s business started to grow and he had enough money to built bigger vessels and successfully traded north to Labrador and south to Virginia (“Petition for Relief from Taxation”, 2013). Paul gathered rather big capital that helped him to expand his ownership and to get a fleet of ships.

He commissioned the closed-deck boat, which could ship around 14-15 ton known as Box Iron. Just after that, another achievement that followed was a18-20 ton schooner. In the 1780s Paul already owned schooner Sun Fish and schooner Mary, which in total could transport cargo of approximately 65 tons. In 1796, just right after the mentioned schooners Sunfish and Mary were sold, Cuffee’s shipyard in Westport launched a 69-ton schooner known as Ranger. Eventually he could afford to buy a large farmstead and in 1799 he bought property in Westport for $3,500. Later he bought a half of the 162-ton barque Hero. Paul was so wealthy, that he maybe was one of the richest man among all Native American and African American of the in the United States of the 19th century (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Just a couple of weeks before the Revolution ended, Paul married Alice Pequit, who was also Wampanoag Indian, the same as Cuffee’s mother.

This marriage brought seven children to Cuffe’s family: David, Sarah, Jonathan, Mary,John, Phebe, Ruth, Lydia, Freelove and Paul. On the 17th of January the youngest son was born. The child was biracial, but born free, as the two parents were not enslaved (Cordeiro, 2004). The Roch family and other successful merchants have inspired Paul to build his own empire, which was very successful. The crews that he employed were mainly African American and Native American people. Eventually his ships were on both sides of the Atlantic. He opened an outlet in New Bedford, where he sold the goods that he imported (“Paul Cuffee (1759-1817)”, 2013).

Being a businessman with an African American and Native American crews, Paul managed to earn the respect of many white Americans through the relationships in the Quaker faith. When Cuffee was twenty-one he refused to pay taxes. This protest was done along with his brother and lasted from 1778 till 1780. The main motivation for that was that free black Americans did not have the right to vote, but according to the governmental laws of that time, African Americans were taxed. He even petitioned the council of Bristol County in 1780, Massachusetts to put such taxation to an end. Despite the denial, later his petition was one of key factors that led to granting voting rights to all free male citizens by Legislature in 1783 (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Cuffee built a schoolhouse for African American children on his own property.

He spent his money on that and it took him a couple of months to finish. After the school was built, Paul hired a knowledgeable teacher and opened the institution to the Westport residents. It was for kids, who were denied to visit other public schools. He implemented his own policy to the school’s administration, according to which children of all races were allowed to attend the studies, so the school was multiracial. This was just a beginning of a future fight against unfair treatment of the US and other governments towards the black people (Cordeiro, 2004).

The majority of Anglo-Americans and English origin people considered African as lower race in comparison to Europeans, even in principally Calvinist and Quaker New England. Unfortunately the slavery continued, but some decent men like James Madison and Presidents Thomas Jefferson thought that colonies emigration of Blacks outside the US was the best and the easiest way to the fight the race problem in America (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Cuffee was involved not only in local activities.

He played a crucial part in national and international events related Blacks in that time. Because of his successful business, Cuffee had contact all over the Atlantic seaboard, which connected the three important continents: Europe, North American and Africa (Cordeiro, 2004). Americans and Europeans put many efforts in all the parts of the world to colonize Black, but they were all unsuccessful. One of such attempts was related to Sierra Leone colonization. The Sierra Leone Company was a main sponsor of 400 people departure from Great Britain to Western African colony. The colony was rebelling and wanted to create a working and competitive economy and a government, which would be strong enough to resist the outside pressure. Eventually the Sierra Leone Company collapsed and another institution known as African Institution was offering migration to the released slaves, which have settled in London and Nova Scotia after the American Revolution.

The institution’s sponsors were hoping to get some economical benefit by fostering the educated trades of Blacks (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Despite the fact that it was very difficult to colonize Sierra Leone, Cuffee really believed that it was a vital option and supported the movement. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Paul started to cooperate with the mentioned African Institution, which was based in London (Cordeiro, 2004). In U.S. the organization was very active in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York. This all started in March 1807, when members of the institution encouraged him to help them. The main objective was to promote the immigration to Sierra Leone, a colony of Britain in West Africa. Cuffee was among those who recruited African Americans so they can settle there; he transported a big amount of families and explored the local economy trying to find ways of its improving. This was all mainly done for his own funds (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”).

Paul Cuffee wrote in his letters, that he really felt like going to Sierra Leone, he wanted to see the situation in the country. He believed that the inhabitants of that colony were talented people, which, as well as he did, deserved to feel the true light of Christianity and be benefited thereby (“Captain Paul Cuffe’s Logs and Letters”). Paul obtained a bill, given by the Committee of the Whole from the Senate and the President of the United States, which gave him a right to leave US with the cargo and come back with a cargo from Sierra Leone. He was nominated by government and had all the privilege to be treated properly (“History of Congress”).

Cuffee studied all the logistics and the possible outcome, when finally on December in 1810 he left U.S. for his first voyage to Sierra Leone. He managed to get to the colony on the 1st of March in 1811. He was travelling all over the place to explore the local habits and economy in order to find the possibilities to development. He met the officials there, but they were against of the colonization idea, as they were afraid of American merchants, because this could create a lot of unfair competition. Moreover, the cargo, which Cuffee intended to trade off, did not sell well as the tariff charges implemented by British trading system were too high.

Eventually this did not stop Cuffee and on the 7th of April 1811 he made an appointment with key Black entrepreneurs. An outcome was that a special petition for the African Institution was written, which stated that people in the colony wanted to work in merchanting, whaling industry and agriculture. This indicated that those three areas were the main objective of the future growth and development of the colony. Cuffee together with the black businessmen set the Friendly Society foundation in Sierra Leone. Its main aim was to ensure further prosperity and industry development among all free peoples. Another area to work on was related to breaking the strong merchants trade established there by British. Cuffee decided to go to UK in order to make sure that colony will get further aid.

He arrived to Liverpool in July 1811. There he met the officials of the African Institution in London, who collected some funds for the Friendly Society. He also obtained further required governmental license and permissions to continue his delegation in Sierra Leone. Paul was happy to come back to the West African colony where he shared the ideas of the Friendly Society with the local merchants. Together they elaborated plans for Sierra Leone to grow by building a saw mill, grist mill, salt works and rice-processing factory. Later Cuffee was involved with similar venture, which was backed by Americans and let to creation of the American Colonization Society and colony in Liberia (Cordeiro, 2004). During that period of history the relations between the Great Britain and United States were strained, which led to embargo establishment on British goods in 1811.

This had somehow a negative outcome on Cuffee’s voyage, as when in April 1812 he reached Newport on his ship, it was usurped by U.S. customs officers along with all its cargo. This case was not being resolved locally, so Paul Cuffee left to Washington, D.C. to file an official appeal to his case. In the White House he met with the President James Madison and Albert Gallatin, who was a Secretary of the Treasury in that time. Cuffee was warmly welcomed and treated there. Madison was on his side and later ordered to release the goods, based on the information that Cuffee did not know about the political disagreements and did not deliver the goods with the intention to violate any laws. Cuffee shared his observations and experience, which he gained during his trip to Sierra Leone.

First the President seemed to be very interested in further expansion of the colony in Africa, but eventually he refuses to participate in Cuffee’s further investigations, as he saw this mission not possible because of too many problems and obstacles that U.S. will be facing during further attempts of Sierra Leone colonization. This was all related to the fact that it was initially fully British project. Still Cuffee obtained a legal permission to become an official authority on Africa in the United States. Cuffee had clear intentions to visit Great Britain’s colony of Sierra Leone on a regular basis, but his plans were interrupted because of the sudden War of 1812, which started in June and was a war between the British Empire and the United States. This prevented Paul from visiting the colony for a while.

Despite the fact that Cuffee was opposed the war because of his Christian beliefs, he was really against any interruptions that could have been caused by war and resulted as an impact on trading and goods delivery from Sierra Leone. The war continued, so Cuffee took a change to convince U.S and Great Britain to ease restrictions on trading. Unfortunately this was unsuccessful and he waited until the war ended in 1815 (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Meanwhile, Paul remained an active political life and paid a couple of visits to Philadelphia, Baltimore and New York, where he spoke to groups of free African Americans about the colony. He encouraged Blacks to create organizations within their cities, to talk to each other and to have a correspondence with the Friendly Society at Sierra Leone and the African Institution. A special pamphlet with the ideas of Paul Cuffee related to Sierra Leone was printed at that time and distributed to general public.

He rebuilt the Westport Friends’ Meeting House in summer of 1813, which was a meeting house for the multi-racial members of the Society of Friend, where Cuffee spoke and preached regularly on a Sunday meetings. Most of the money for that was coming from Cuffee’s personal funds. It is important to mention that war impacted Cuffee’s business and during that year he facial financial crisis. He has a number of unprofitable ventures related to ships. One vessel was considered unseaworthy and has never returned from Chile. Luckily the war ended and the Treaty of Ghent was signed at the end of 1814. After some time taken to recover, Paul was prepared to go back to Sierra Leone (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). The first ship with thirty-eight Blacks shipped from Westport on December 10, 1815. Among the passengers were 18 adults and 20 children (Cordeiro, 2004). The price of organization of that expedition was $5000. Eighty percents of those expenses were covered by Cuffee.

The rest was paid by passengers and with the help of donation by William Rotch from Massachusetts. The colonist arrived to the colony with their own belongings such as hoes, axes, wagon and a plow, but they were not treated as well as it was expected by Cuffee. This was related to the fact that Governor was facing difficulties in keeping the existing population in order, which could have even worsen the situation if more emigrant have arrived. Moreover, the act known as the Militia Act was imposed upon the colony and obliges males to swear of loyalty to the Crown. People had concerns, because it could have been an obligation to go to military service. Despite the negative outcome related to economical benefits and sales, the positive was the fact that colonist have finally settles in Freetown.

Cuffee spent lots of money by supporting the new inhabitants with money for the first year’s provisions. It was planned initially that Cuffee will be reimbursed by the African Institution, but due to heavy tariff duties there was a big deficit in the budget. Actually Paul was never given money by the African Institution in Britain. After coming back to USA in 1816, Cuffee searched for financial support from New York’ division of the American Institution and has eventually obtained $439.62 for further investments into Sierra Leone’s colonists (“A Paul Cuffe Biography”). Soon in1816, Cuffee proposed a newly-designed emigration plan for African Americans, which was related not only to Sierra Leone but also possibly to Haiti. Provide funds. Congress did not approve the petition to provide funds for that.

People all over U.S. have started to show more and more interest in immigration to Africa, believing that it would help to solve the racial problems. Cuffee was trying to find support from other institutions, but some of them were not honest, such as American Colonization Society (ACS) , which was alarmed as a racist organization. The ideas were supported by many other Americans, but later they turned in favor of emigration to Haiti, where the immigrants were welcomed and supported by the President Boyer Since 1817 Cuffee was not feeling himself well and has never visited Africa again. He died in September of that year surrounded by his family and friends. Cuffee was buried at the Quaker Meeting House near Westport (Cordeiro, 2004).

To conclude, it should be mentioned that Cuffee was and is considered one of the greatest persons in African-American history. He was a first African-American who had a success in implementation of ideas of Blacks. He fought the existing racism of that time with the help of tolerant and Christian methods. Not only he opposed himself, but he also managed to dwell public attention to the current situation with Blacks, which helped people a lot. He was a successful businessman, who could have had just a happy and calm life, but spent his time and effort to explore Sierra Leone, donated his own money to make the life of immigrants there as good as possible and helped in many other ways to people. I think this person is worth to be admired and remembered thought all future generations of the world.

A Paul Cuffe Biography. (n.d.) SlideShare, Inc. Retrieved from Paul Cuffee (1759-1817). (2013). Paul Cuffee School. Retrieved from Petition for Relief from Taxation. (2013). Abstract. Pearson Education. Retrieved from Cordeiro, B.N. (2004). Paul Cuffe: A Study of His Life and the Status of His Legacy in Old Dartmouth. Boston, MA: University of Massachusetts Boston. Retrieved from Captain Paul Cuffe’s Logs and Letters. (n.d.). Estimed froends John James and Alexander Wilson. Westport 6 mo 10th 1809. Paul Cuffee. Retrieved from History of Congress. (n.d.). A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 – 1875. The Library of Congress. Retrieved from

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