Published on February 23, 2011 by John
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Captain Paul Cuffee engraving in
1812 from a drawing by Dr. John Pele of
Paul Cuffee (January 17, 1759 – September 9, 1817) was a Quaker businessman, patriot, and abolitionist of Aquinnah Wampanoag and African Ashanti descent. Cuffee built a lucrative shipping empire. He established the first school in Westport, Massachusetts to be racially integrated.
A devout Christian, Cuffee often preached and spoke at the Sunday services at the multi-racial Society of Friends meeting house in Westport. In 1813, he donated most of the money to build a new meeting house. He became involved in the British effort to resettle former slaves in the colony of Sierra Leone; many had been transported from the US to Nova Scotia after the American Revolution after gaining freedom with the British. Cuffee helped to establish The Friendly Society of Sierra Leone, to gather financial support for the colony.
Paul Cuffee was born the seventh of ten children on January 17, 1759, the youngest son and free during the French and Indian War, on Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts. His father, Kofi, was a member of the Ashanti ethnic group, probably from Ghana, Africa. Kofi had been captured at age ten and brought as a slave to the British colony of Massachusetts. His owner, John Slocum, could not reconcile slave ownership with his Quaker values, and gave Kofi his freedom in the mid-1740s. Kofi took the name Cuffee Slocum and in 1746 married Ruth Moses. Ruth Moses (Paul’s mother) was Native American a member of the Wampanoag Nation on Martha’s Vinyard. Cuffe Slocum worked as a skilled carpenter, farmer and fisherman and taught himself to read and write. He worked diligently to earned enough money to buy a home and in 1766 bought a 116-acre (0.47 km2) farm in nearby Dartmouth, Massachusetts. The couple would raise ten children together, of which Paul was the seventh in line.
During Paul Cuffee’s infancy there was no Quaker meeting house on Cuttyhunk Island, so Kofi needed to self-teach himself the Scriptures. In 1766, when Paul was eight years old, the family moved to a farm in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Cuffee Slocum died in 1772, when Paul was thirteen. The two oldest brothers having families of their own elsewhere, Paul and his brother John took over their father’s farm operations and cared for their mother and three younger sisters. Around 1778 Paul persuaded his brothers and sisters to use their father’s English first name, Cuffee, as their family name, and all but the youngest did. His mother, Ruth Moses, died on January 6, 1787.