Paul Cuffee
Paul Cuffee courtesy

Paul Cuffee was born in 1759 on an island near New Bedford, MA to a free black man and a Wampanoag Indian woman.  Coffee’s father had been captured and enslaved in Ghana, Africa, but his owners, who were Quakers, gave him his freedom because of their religious convictions. As a rule, Quakers in the mid 1700s set their slaves free and believed that blacks were equal to whites at a time when Europeans considered themselves to be a superior race. Cuffee grew up in a devout Quaker household with nine siblings. Although all ten children were successful, Cuffee out-shined them all. He taught himself to read and write, became proficient in ship-building, and later owned his own shipping company. Quite possibly, he was the wealthiest African-American/Native-American of his day.

Championed Rights for Blacks

Although it seems like a bad idea now, back in 1800 many people, including Paul Cuffee felt that free blacks would have better opportunities if they relocated to Africa. Coffee was instrumental in helping people move to Sierra Leone and spent much of his time and money doing so. He also fought for voting rights for free landowning black Americans.

Opens First Integrated School

When Cuffee desired to finance a public school in his community, he met opposition from white people who did not want their children to learn with blacks. In response, he graciously built a school on his own property, hired a teacher, and invited his white neighbors to send their children to his school.

Charter School Bears His Name

A charter school opened in Providence, RI in 2001 that bears his name and honors his legacy of multi-racial learning. Find out more about Paul Cuffee and his many other accomplishments on their website: Paul Cuffee School. Paul Cuffee was respected for his integrity and faith by everyone who knew him. He modeled Christian values and keen business skills during a time of political unrest – the Revolutionary War.

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