Commemorating Westport's Captain Paul Cuffee

Sep 15, 2017

Massachusetts has declared September 16th Paul Cuffee Day, with a proclamation from Governor Charlie Baker. On Saturday, Lee Blake, of the New Bedford Historical Society,and members of four other historical organizations, will commemorate the 200th anniversary of Cuffee’s death in Westport.        

As Blake explained, Cuffee worked to end slavery and get the right to vote for African-Americans and Native-Americans.

"In 1780 he and his brother actually write to the Massachusetts Senate and say, all right, you’ve had your revolution, now it’s time to offer freedom to blacks and also the right to vote." 

Blake said that because of their actions, Massachusetts, in 1783, granted the right to vote in the constitution.      

Cuffee amassed great wealth, especially for an African-American at the time. He became a mariner and began a ship-building business with his brothers. He joined forces with another family, the Wainers, who were African-American and Native-American as well, and also from Westport.

"So you have these two families that align, and become in some ways a dynasty," said Blake.

According to Blake, that dynasty will be on display for posterity now with the inauguration on Saturday of a tourist trail that runs through Westport, Dartmouth and New Bedford.

"It is an African-American, Native-American heritage trail that connects all the properties that Paul Cuffee and his partners the Wainer family owned. Their docks, their cemeteries, the buildings that they helped build, like the Westport Friends Meeting House," said Blake. "It’s connecting all the land, so people can see that in the early 19th century, you had this man, who was African-American, the son of a recent slave, who was able to amass this kind of wealth."  

Information about the African-American Native-American Heritage Trail is available at Westport Town Hall.