Table of Contents
Paul Cuffe was born in 1759 on the island of Cuttyhunk, Massachusetts, and later became a resident of Westport, Mass. He was the son of a black slave who had purchased his own freedom. Despite racial prejudice, Cuffe became a successful whaleman, merchant, and ship's captain as well as a respected citizen of Westport, joining the Society of Friends and establishing the first free school in the town. Although he was accepted in white society, he was acutely aware of the poor social conditions of slave and free blacks in America. This concern led to his first voyage to Sierra Leone, Africa, in 1811, to assess the British colony as a resettlement area for freed American slaves. Before his death in 1817, Cuffe managed to transport thirty-eight free blacks to Africa and establish several abolitionist and colonization societies in America.
Materials in this collection reflect the involvement of Paul Cuffe in the resettlement of freed American slaves in Sierra Leone, Africa, dating between 1811-1828. The majority of the material consists of business, personal, family, legal, and financial correspondence dating from 1812-1816. The business correspondence concerns mercantile ventures, primarily those related to his trip to Sierra Leone in 1816, and includes letters from William Rotch Jr., of New Bedford, Mass., John James, a Quaker merchant of Philadelphia, and Peter Williams Jr., who was instrumental in starting the New York African Institute. Of particular note is the personal correspondence which includes requests from freed slaves for passage to Africa, letters from William Allen of London regarding Cuffe's safe passage to Sierra Leone and the resettlement issue in general, and perhaps most important, several letters from settlers of Sierra Leone describing conditions in their new home. A letter book of Cuffe's includes copies of letters to Representative Laban Wheaton of Mass., Hannah Little, a good friend of First Lady Dolley Madison, and a letter of petition to the President, Senate, and House of the United States.
Other papers in the collection consist of addresses, ca. 1816; provision lists for passengers, 1816; pledges, ca. 1816; receipts, 1815-1816; lists and clippings, 1816-1817; and a small number of personal papers of Paul Cuffe's brother, John Cuffe, and Paul's son, William Cuffe, dating from 1811-1828.
Researchers should note that the bulk of Paul Cuffe's papers are in the collection of the New Bedford Free Public Library.
Arrangement of Collection
Access to the Collection
Unrestricted. Consult librarian for an appointment.
New Bedford Whaling Museum Research Library Mss 10 [sub-group, series, sub-series, folder/volume as appropriate], [item]
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Related Manuscript Collections
Mss 101: Sarah Loomis Papers
Removed to Printed Collection
Boston Recorder, October 21, 1817
Existing records reveal neither the source nor the accession date of this collection. The materials were probably acquired as a gift to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society before 1960.
Processed by: Barbara E. Austen, ca. 1982
Encoded by: Kermit Dewey, 18 June 2011; box list appended by Mark Procknik, 12 December 2011
Funds for processing this collection were provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
African American Friends
African American business enterprises--Mass.--Westport
African American merchant seamen
African Americans in business--Mass.--Westport
African Americans--Mass.--Westport--History--To 1863
African Americans--Mass.--Westport--Social Conditions--To 1964
African Americans--colonization--Africa--Sierra Leone
Allen, William, 1770-1843
Back to Africa movement
Colonies in Africa
Cuffe, John, 1757-1836
Cuffe, William, 1799-ca. 1845
Sierra Leone, Africa--Colonization
United States--Race relations
Wheaton, Laban, fl.1834
Williams, Peter Jr., ca. 1780-1840
- Exhibit Enhancements
- Discovery Center
- Herman Melville
- Captain Paul Cuffe
- Joshua Slocum