Timeline of Paul Cuffe's Life
1759: Paul Cuffe is born January 17th on Cuttyhunk Island in Massachusetts.
1767: He moves with his family from Cuttyhunk to a 120-acre farm on Old County Road in Dartmouth (now mostly in Westport).
1773: He joins the crew of a whaling vessel, learns navigation and teaches himself to read and write.
1776: He is captured by the British in New York harbor while crewing on a whaling ship, is imprisoned for three months, and released.
1780: Paul Cuffe and his brother John with others petition the State to exempt free blacks and multi-racial individuals from taxation because they could not vote, providing an impetus to the 1783 voting reform in Massachusetts.
1783: He marries Alice Able Pequit, a Wampanoag woman from a prominent family of the Aquinnah tribe on Martha’s Vineyard, known as “Noepe” by native peoples. They have 7 children.
1789-1797: He purchases 0.2-acres on the Acoaxet (now Westport) River and establishes a wharf and boatyard, entering into a business partnership with his brother-in-law, Michael Wainer. In the 1790s, Paul Cuffe becomes of the wealthiest people of color in the country. He uses his funds to support philanthropic activities such as a smallpox hospitals and other charities.
1801-1807: He builds one of the first integrated public school-houses in the country on his property.
1808: Cuffe is accepted in the Westport Friends Meeting House. He enters a business partnership with his sons-in-law in New Bedford.
1811: At the urging of Quaker abolitionists in England and America, Cuffe sails to Sierra Leone to assess the living situation of freed-slaves living in a settlement there. He would go on to use his fleet and sizable wealth to help assist freed blacks with the ability to emigrate to Sierra Leone to escape persecution, helping to establish better living conditions there.
1812: The war of 1812 halts Paul Cuffe’s efforts to establish a trade route between the U.S. and Sierra Leone when his brig the Traveller is seized by U.S. customs. Cuffe is granted an audience with President James Madison regarding the seizure of his ship. The senate approves the release of his ship, but the House rejects his petition to continue trade with Sierra Leone.
1817: Captain Paul Cuffe dies in Westport on September 7, 1817. He is buried the next day on the grounds of the Westport Friends Meeting House.
The Captain Paul Cuffe Center for Inclusion
Life of Captain paul cuffe
Paul Cuffe was born in 1759 on the island of Cuttyhunk. He was the son of Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag woman, Cufe (from the Ashanti region day-name Kofi) Slocum, an African man who was a freed slave and farmer. Paul Cuffe was the 6th of 10 children, and the family eventually moved to Dartmouth, Massachusetts when his parents purchased land. From his youth, Paul Cuffe worked for the benefit of his family and later for the benefit of his entire community. Cuffe first learned the art of navigation in 1773 after joining his first whaling voyage at the young age of 14. Cuffe’s maritime abilities were put to test again a few years later during the Revolutionary War when he would slip past British Blockades to deliver much needed goods to Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard. He experienced quite a bit of difficulty in the beginning and was even robbed by pirates on at least one occasion. However, his time whaling and boyhood spent on the Elizabeth Islands no doubt helped him navigate those waters on moonless nights. These efforts gained him much admiration and gratitude from local families as well as prominent members in the industry that would later become friends and business partners. In 1783 he married Alice Abel Pequit, a Wampanoag woman from a prominent family of the Aquinnah tribe on Martha’s Vineyard (Noepe). When he met with James Madison in 1812 to discuss the release of his cargo from the British embargo, he was thought to be the first black man to be granted an audience with a sitting United States President. Paul Cuffe spent most of his life fighting for equality and worked with both white and black abolitionists in the U.S. and England to end slavery. Cuffe also established a free, integrated public school in Westport, one of the first in the country.
Captain Cuffe was a Master Mariner and whaler, successful businessman, educator and community advocate, philanthropist and visionary until his death in 1817. Whether the business was shipping, whaling, trade, or running a store, Paul Cuffe was very successful. He was likely the wealthiest person of color in the U.S. during his lifetime and much of his wealth went back to the community. After his initial success in whaling, he later moved on to shipping and shipbuilding and had the foresight to invest what he initially earned into expanding and improving his business. In 1789 he purchased a property on the Acoaxet (now Westport) River and established a wharf and boatyard where he built a fleet of ships. He partnered with his brother-in-law, Michael Wainer, to expand their trade network up and down the Atlantic Coast. His ships consisted of crew members from all backgrounds, sometimes being made up entirely of black men and people of color. These ships were captained by himself or Michael Wainer's sons as they traded along the U.S. coast and internationally.
Paul Cuffe left a legacy that is local, national, and international; rising to prominence at a time when it was all but impossible for a black and indigenous man to do so. That legacy of struggling for equality and justice continues to inspire us today.