Paul Cuffe (1759-1817) was born on an island near New Bedford, Massachusetts, the son of John Cuffe who was brought as a slave from Africa and Ruth Moses, a Native American. After becoming a free man, John Cuffe bought a 100-acre farm in Westport, Mass. and built a public school on his property.
Paul Cuffe, who had earned a sizable fortune as a trader and merchant and became a sea captain with his own ship, two brigs and several small vessels, petitioned the Massachusetts Legislature and was granted all the privileges available to white male citizens, including the right to vote, a privilege denied most African Americans at that time. In 1808, when few African Americans were accepted into membership in a Quaker meeting, Cuffe not only joined Westport Monthly Meeting, but also became a minister in the Society of Friends.
In a letter from Haverford’s Charles Roberts Autograph Letters Collection dated Westport 1st [month=January] 27, 1815 directed to Perry Lockes, Cuffe writes (using the Quaker form of address) that he believes in working toward the freedom “of our Beloved countrymen, the Africa[n]s who are yet in Bondage,” and that the existence of the slave trade, abolished in 1808, should not be forgotten. Envisioning a commercial exchange between America and Africa, he suggests that there may be people of color who could invest money and build a ship for African trade. He imagines establishing a colony in Sierre Leone, known for its relative economic and political stability, where he believes African Americans would enjoy freedom. Cuffe sailed for Sierre Leone in 1815 with a group of African Americans to establish a colony there.
The letter is of particular significance as it provides a date for trade between the U.S. and Africa one year earlier than historians had determined previously.
This letter is a part of the Charles Roberts Autograph Letters Collection. A full list of letter writers may be seen at: www.haverford.edu/library/special/aids/rare_books_and_manuscripts/cralc_in_pdf.pdf