James Madison Papers

To James Madison from Paul Cuffe, 22 June 1812 (Abstract)

§ From Paul Cuffe1

22 June 1812, New Bedford. “The kind attention & favour I received from thee & the other officers of the government, in my late application to them excited my grateful acknowledgment,” which should have been expressed in person.2 Feels “Very Sensibly the Duty and respect” owed to civil leaders and “the Still greater obligation of acknowledgment and gratitude” due to God. “His holy help be near thee in this Very critical moment, to assist thee in doing all in thy power to preserve our beloved Country from the dreadfull Calamities of war, and preserve the neutrality of the united States in peace and happiness.”

RC (DNA: RG 59, ML). 1 p.

1Paul Cuffe (1759–1817), the Quaker son of a former slave, was a successful merchant and ship captain in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Through his Quaker connections, in 1808 Cuffe became interested in the movement to return former slaves to Africa, and by 1812 he had undertaken his first trip to Sierra Leone to explore the possibilities for legitimate trade in goods other than slaves and to judge the fitness of that colony as a home for American freedmen. Impressed with what he saw during this journey, Cuffe founded the Friendly Society with the triple purpose of promoting triangular trade among the U.S., Great Britain, and West Africa, spreading Christianity along the West African coast, and beginning American settlements there. Cuffe would make a second trip to Sierra Leone in December 1815, carrying thirty-eight American settlers with the intent to create a colony of former slaves (Rayford W. Logan and Michael R. Winston, eds., Dictionary of American Negro Biography [New York, 1982], pp. 147–48).

2On 19 Apr. 1812 Cuffe’s brig, the Traveller, was seized by Newport customs officers on its return from Sierra Leone. Loaded primarily with cargo from Africa, the brig also carried British woolen goods that Cuffe had been unable to sell abroad. Under the provisions of the Nonintercourse Act of 1811, the entire cargo was impounded, and Cuffe, armed with letters of support and introduction from a number of prominent Federalists, was forced to make a trip to Washington to entreat with JM personally. He met with JM on 2 May and was informed by Gallatin on 4 May that his cargo was to be released. Cuffe was startled to learn at this meeting that the president approved of his colonization efforts so fully as to promise the complete support of the federal government, consistent with the Constitution, to advance his work (Lamont D. Thomas, Rise to Be a People: A Biography of Paul Cuffe [Urbana, Ill., 1986], pp. 72–75).

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