Item #8431 Captain Paul Cuffee 1812. John Pole, after., M. D., Mason, engr Maas, M. D. Thomas Pole.
Captain Paul Cuffee 1812.

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Pole, John, M.D., after. [Thomas Pole, M.D.]; Mason & Maas, engr.

Captain Paul Cuffee 1812.

Philadelphia: Abraham L. Pennock, 1850. Engraving, 6.5” x 4.875” plus margins, margins trimmed to conform with the shape of the printed border, affixed to paper mount, in mid-nineteenth century grain painted frame. CONDITION: Good, toned, light scuff mark across head and face of Cuffee, light creases, small discreet puncture in blank area between Cuffee’s face and the border, inner bold border nicked at center right.

The most iconic image of Afro-Native American sea captain Paul Cuffee, one of the wealthiest Black Americans of his time and the first African American to lead an on-the-ground colonization effort in Sierra Leone.

This marvelous engraving centers Cuffee’s silhouette over his ship the Traveler, situated between two shores—on the left Sierra Leone, with tall palms, and on the right New England, with a large deciduous tree on a rocky ledge. Three small figures, perhaps representing the free African Americans that Cuffee transported in 1815, are visible on the narrow strip of ground in between. The portrait was commissioned in 1850 by Quaker and abolitionist Abraham L. Pennock as the frontispiece for the final issue of his journal The Non-Slaveholder, and was accompanied by a “A Brief Memoir of Paul Cuffee” by fellow abolitionist William J. Allison. Cuffee made his first trip to Sierra Leone in 1811, spending several months there and, “genuinely interested in the prosperity” of the colonists, founded the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone, “a cooperative black group intended to encourage the Black Settlers of Sierra Leone, and the Natives of Africa generally, in the Cultivation of their Soil, by the Sale of their Produce’” (Senders; Gates). He then traveled to England at the invitation of the African Institution, which raised funds for the Friendly Society. After several more months of work in Sierra Leone, he returned to Newport, Rhode Island in April of 1812. During the War of 1812 he attempted to organize domestic Friendly Societies and stir interest in colonization, and in 1815 spent some $4000.00 of his own money to transport and settle thirty-eight people there.

The New Bedford Whaling Museum correctly attributes the “drawing upon which this engraving is based—which was more likely a cut paper silhouette—to Quaker physician and silhouette artist Thomas Pole (1753–1829)—not “John Pole” as the credit indicates. Thomas Pole’s father and son were both named John, but neither was living when Cuffee traveled to England in connection with his work in Sierra Leone. Brought up in New Jersey as a Quaker, Pole returned to his father’s home in England as a young man, eventually settling in Bristol in 1802 and establishing an extensive medical practice. He was active in the Society of Friends, and founded some of the first adult schools in England. He made many water-colors and silhouettes, several of which are reproduced in his 1908 biography for the Friends’ Historical Society.

Born on the island of Cuttyhunk, off New Bedford, Paul Cuffee (1759–1817) was the son of freed slave Kofi Slocum (who, originally from the Ashanti region of West Africa, took the name of the Quaker man who freed him, John Slocum) and Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag Indian. Exceptionally energetic and ambitious, Cuffee took to the sea at an early age, served on a privateer during the Revolutionary War, and, following the War, took to whaling and commercial voyages. Despite a number of serious setbacks early on, including losses at the hands of pirates, he persisted and became quite prosperous. In 1780, objecting to Massachusetts laws that required free Blacks to pay taxes while they had no rights as citizens, Cuffee and several others petitioned the General Court for exemption, resulting in a law making “all free persons of color liable to taxation…and granting them the privileges belonging to the other citizens.” Cuffe’s support was solicited by the American Colonization Society, which was established in 1816, shortly after his last return from Sierra Leone, but he could not align himself with the overt racism of so many of its members, and died in 1817.

REFERENCES: Cruz, Carl J. “Envisioning Paul Cuffe: Images from 1811-2017,” New Bedford Historical Society online; Gates, Henry Louis, Jr. “Who Led the First Back-to-Africa Effort?” PBS online; Wedmore, Edmund Tolson. “Thomas Pole, M.D.,” The Journal of the Friends’ Historical Society, Supplement No. 7 (London, 1908); “Who was Captain Paul Cuffee,” The Bulletin from Johnny Cake Hill (New Bedford Whaling Museum, Winter & Spring 2017), p. 4; Senders, Charlotte. “Paul Cuffe Memorial,” Rhode Tour online.

Item #8431

Price: $4,500.00

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