Thursday, June 30, 2016

Black Indian Biographies: Paul Cuffe: New England Trader

Paul Cuffe in silhouette
At one point Paul Cuffe was the richest man of color in the United States.  His father was a former slave who was born in Africa, perhaps in Ghana.  His mother was a Wampanoag Indian from Martha’s Vineyard.  His father came as a slave to Massachusetts, and likely worked as a servant.  He was able to earn extra and buy his freedom, and married Ruth Moses.  The Massasoit were the Indians that greeted the Pilgrims, first in friendship, and eventually in war as the newcomers wanted more and more land. 
Paul Cuffe was the seventh of ten children.  He was always interested in the sea as they lived close, and went to sea young as a mariner.  He could see the ship owners made more than the seamen, so he and his brother built a ship.  He began to make good money, and invested in other ships.  By his early twenties he was doing well, and took a wife of the Massasoit as well, Alice Pequit.  By prospering, Cuffe proved someone of African American or Native American heritage could succeed as well as someone of White descent.  Cuffe became interested in many community causes.  He built a school on his own land, providing education for his kids in a setting free from persecution.  Local children were also welcome to attend.  Cuffe thought of himself as both black and Indian, but as he grew older, he took an active role in African American and slavery issues.  He was of the Quaker faith, and with them he was an abolitionist.  He paid to establish a colony of ex-slaves in Sierra Leone in Freetown.  He made several trips there.    He also supported people financially who were moving back to Africa. 

Excerpts from Proud Red and Black: Stories of African and Native Americans, William Loren Katz and Paula A. Franklin, Antheneum Books for Young Readers, New York, 1993.

No comments:

Post a Comment