popular hymn, Amazing Grace', and a one-time slave trader on the west coast who had since converted to evangelical religion. In 1793, we may recall, the idea of overseas missionary service was far from the mind of churches in Britain, though the Wesleyan revival had awakened society to a larger responsibility at home, with William Carey taking such homebred impulses abroad when he set out for India in 1792. George's appeal was, in the circumstances, a significant gesture that placed Africa right at the centre of the antislavery movement and of the missionary awakening allied to it. It was a matter of time before the growing sentiment for abolition would prevail in parliament where William Wilberforce led the drive to abolish the slave trade in 1807.
The charge of antinomian heresy met with a convincing refutation in the person of Paul Cuffee, an African American from New England, and one of the wealthiest and most influential blacks of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Born in 1759 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, Cuffee grew up in the slave household of the Slocum Quaker family, and later converted to that faith. The name Cuffee or Cuffe ('Kofi') was adopted in 1778, hinting at his paternal Ghanaian Ashanti origins. He was freed by his conscience-stricken Quaker master, and at age of sixteen, Cuffee entered the whaling trade in which he rose eventually to great wealth. He achieved the unusual distinction of being a black ship-owner, commissioning in 1800 the 162-ton vessel, the Hero, a ship that on one of its voyages rounded the Cape of Good Hope. In 1806, he fitted out two more and larger ships, one a 268-ton vessel, the Alpha, which travelled from Wilmington and Savannah to Gottenburg, Sweden, eventually returning to Philadelphia.
In the other ship, the Traveller, in which he owned three-quarters interest, Cuffee made a fateful voyage to West Africa. He left Philadelphia in December 1810, travelling via England where early in 1811 he arrived at Liverpool, then a significant slave port. There he obtained the release of a slave named Aaron Richards, having sent a petition on the matter to the Board of Admiralty set up under the terms of the 1807 act abolishing the slave trade. Cuffee consulted widely with leading figures of the antislavery and evangelical movements, including William Wilberforce - born, coincidentally, in the same year as Cuffee - and Zachary Macaulay, since retired as governor of Sierra Leone, and father of the celebrated historian, Thomas Babington Macaulay. Cuffee also met the Duke of Gloucester, president of the African Institution, an influential and active antislavery and humanitarian organization whose directors included Wilberforce and William Allen, the prominent Quaker leader with known sympathies for the Mennonite cause in southern Russia. In September 1811, Cuffee resumed his journey to West Africa, arriving in Freetown in November
Was this article helpful?