PAUL CUFFE

PAUL CUFFE

Paul Cuffe also shared the same mindset with Prince Hall.  One can argue that the Back-to-Africa movement officially started with Cuffe, the son of an Asante father and Wampanoag Indian mother. Paul Cuffe was born near New Bedford, Massachusetts. He became a prosperous New England sea captain, ship builder, and landlord, acquiring an estate worth more than $20,000. In 1797, he purchased a farm on which he built and opened the first integrated school in Massachusetts because his own children had been denied access to the public school. Cuffe believed that African American colonization of Africa was the way to end the Atlantic slave trade, spread Christianity to Africans, and create a refuge for free Black people.  On New Year’s Day, 1811, Cuffe and a crew of nine Black seamen sailed from Philadelphia aboard his flagship, the Traveller.  This was his first trip to Sierra Leone to investigate the feasibility of establishing a colony for Blacks in West Africa. While in Sierra Leone he made careful plans for immigration. During his three-month visit, he met with government officials and local chiefs, visited schools, and attended Methodist meetings where he distributed Bibles. He tried to establish friendly relations and open a dialogue between continental and Diasporic Africans.  As an example of his good faith, he purchased a house in Freetown. 

 While in Sierra Leone, Paul Cuffe accepted an invitation by an English abolitionist to visit London, Liverpool and Manchester. He was received as an honored guest by members of Parliament, including the Duke of Gloucester, who was nephew to the king and president of the African Institution, an organization of abolitionists who were dedicated to “promoting the civilizations of the people of Africa.” Near the end of his visit, the Liverpool Mercury published a “Memoir of Captain Paul Cuffee,” which described his early life and notable achievements.

In 1815, he made his second trip to Sierra Leone, taking about 34 African American settlers to Sierra Leone.  Cuffe would probably have settled in Sierra Leone, but his Native American wife, Alice Pequit, refused to leave her homeland. Upon his return to America, he urged descendants of Africans in Baltimore, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Westport to support colonization in Africa.  Cuffe had planned more trips to Africa, but his health failed and he died in 1816, ending the first Black initiative for migration, but his plan was picked up by the American Colonization Society in 1817.  Their goal was to send any Free Black person or slaves emancipated for the purpose of migration back to Africa.

The immigration of emancipated Africans was supported by both missionaries and slave holders. The American Colonization Society bore the main responsibility for organizing and funding the project.  Southerners supported immigration to Africa in order to get rid of the free Black population whom they believed represented a major threat to the institution of slavery.  For the best and the worst of reasons, they supported African immigration.