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Paul Cuffee (also spelled Cuffe) was born in 1759, on Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of 10 children born to Kofi (a.k.a. Cuffee Slocum) and Ruth Moses. His father, Kofi, was from the Ashanti Empire of West Africa. He had been enslaved at the age of 10. His mother, Ruth, was a Native American woman.
Cuffee’s father had earned his freedom and became a skilled tradesman. Cuffee refused to take his father’s slave name, Slocum because it was given to him by his former master. Instead, Cuffee took his father’s first name as his last name. His father died while Cuffee was only a teen.
In his early 20s, Cuffee became politically active. In 1780, he organized a group of free Black people to petition the Massachusetts government. They demanded that Blacks and Indigenous people have the right to vote or that they be exempt from taxation. Their petition failed. However, it provided a foundation of petitions that would ultimately warrant a new Constitution in 1783 that granted equality to all Massachusetts citizens.
By the age of 25, Cuffee had married and established himself as a Quaker and philanthropist. He donated his money to several initiatives that would educate Black people. Opposed to slavery, he gathered fellow free Black people living in the North for abolitionist campaigns. His connections with the Quakers drew support for the abolitionist movement.
As a young man, Cuffee worked as a whaling ship captain. He eventually saved enough money to purchase his own ship and go into business for himself. By 1811, he was the wealthiest Black person in the U.S. He was also the largest employer of free Black people. Shortly after gaining his wealth, he became disillusioned by the second class citizenship of Black people in the U.S.
After noticing the condition of Black people in America, Cuffee developed an idea to improve their condition. He decided to recruit as many free Black people as possible to emigrate to Sierra Leone. On January 2, 1811, he and an all-Black crew set sail for Freetown, Sierra Leone. There, he established a trading company, titled The Friendly Society of Sierra Leone.
Cuffee’s vision was to establish Sierra Leone as a country where Black people in America could emigrate. While living there, they would be able to build wealth, modernize Africa, and fight for the abolition of slavery.
In 1815, Cuffee led a group of 38 people to Sierra Leone. The new colonists integrated into the small community well. Despite his plans to recruit more colonists, the American Colonization Society (ACS) soon overshadowed his efforts. With more funding than Cuffee’s initiative, the ACS was able to establish a similar colony in Liberia.
Although many Black people in the U.S., as well as White Americans, questioned the ACS’s merits, their funding blocked Cuffee’s efforts. He persisted but was unable to grow his mass emigration program. Paul Cuffee died on September 9, 1817. He was 58 years old.
**The views and actions of the DDH historical figures that are featured may not reflect the views and beliefs of Ramiro The Writer (Nikodemus Mwandishi). Thank you.**