Born into freedom on Cuttyhunk Island, MA. His father, of the Ashanti region of Ghana, was kidnapped into slavery when he was ten years old and later freed when his owner had a religious awakening. His mother was a member of the Wampanoag Nation, like the mother of Crispus Attucks.

Cuffee signed up to work on a whaling ship as a teenager. He was captured by the British in 1776 and held in one of the horrific and deadly prison ships in the East River off New York City. After he was freed (because of overcrowding), Paul and his brother John fought legal battles with the Massachusetts Legislature which required African Americans to pay taxes, but denied them the right to vote. It took until 1783, but finally the legislature gave male African American and native American property owners the same right to vote as white male property owners enjoyed.

He used his connections within his Quaker community to support the abolition movement, built a school in Westport MA, and supported the building of many others. Cuffee became captain of a whaling ship, then the owner of many ships as he built his business into the largest employer of free African Americans in the country. His commercial success made him the wealthiest African American in the nation. He was a tireless advocate of abolition and racial justice for all Americans. Discouraged by the amount of racism and white supremacist attitudes that harmed so many, Cuffee also organized a small colony of free African Americans in Sierra Leone. There is a charter school named after him in Providence, RI.

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