by Michael Williams
Abolitionist and Pan-Africanist
Paul Cuffee and Henry Mcneal Turner
The Fight for Freedom
If you search for the laws of harmony you find knowledge.
The axe forgets; The tree remembers
Paul Cuffee was born to his father Kofi or Cuffee Slocum – a member of the Akan’s ethnic Ashanti subgroup – in Massacussetts. As a child, Cuffee taught himself the alphabet in order to read scriptures, and served aboard whaling and cargo ships at the age of 16. During his time on the seas, he was able to learn to navigate and sail, braved pirates and the British (who captured and held him for 3 months during the Revolutionary War), and learned to turn a profit form a small ship that he and his brother both financed.
With profits come taxes, but Cuffee refused to pay because free blacks did not have the right to vote. His defiance led to the Legislature in 1783 to grant voting rights to all free male citizens of the state. Paul Cuffee was an abolitionist, an entrepreneur, but he is most well known as one of the founding ideological fathers of Sierra Leone. After the abolition of slavery in Britain, crews would deliver thousands of formerly enslaved Africans to Freetown, after liberating them from illegal slaves ships.
Cuffe landed in Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1811 to build trade and commerce, but met with failure thanks to the system of mercantilism that British settlers created to exploit locals. Cuffe and local black entrepreneurs came together to found the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone as a mutual-aid merchant group dedicated to furthering prosperity and industry among the free peoples in the colony and loosening the stranglehold that the English merchants held on trade.
The society was successful, building a grist mill, saw mill, rice-processing factory and salt works. At his death, Cuffe left an estate with an estimated value of almost $20,000 (six figures in today’s money). He is buried in the graveyard of the Westport Friends Meetinghouse, and his legacy lives on in the name of the Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School.
In 1863 during the American Civil War, Turner was appointed as the first black chaplain in the United States Colored Troops. Afterward, he was appointed to the Freedmen's Bureau in Georgia. He settled in Macon and was elected to the state legislature in 1868 during Reconstruction. He planted many AME churches in Georgia after the war. In 1880 he was elected as the first southern bishop of the AME Church after a fierce battle within the denomination. Angered by the Democrats' regaining power and instituting Jim Crow laws in the late nineteenth century South, Turner began to support black nationalism and emigration of blacks to Africa. He was the chief figure to do so in the late nineteenth century; the movement grew after World War I.