The New Bedford Whaling Museum and its partners proudly present four free public programs over two days recognizing the life and accomplishments of Captain Paul Cuffe at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, September 23-24, culminating with the dedication of a park in his honor.
Paul Cuffe (1759-1817) was the free-born son of an African father and a Native American mother. A skillful mariner, he was also a successful merchant, philanthropist, community leader, civil rights advocate and abolitionist. In 1780 he petitioned for the right to vote as a landowner and taxpayer. He established the first integrated school in America and became an advisor to President James Madison.
On Friday, September 23, a genealogy presentation titled “The Cuffes and the Wainers,” will be offered by George Wortham, a Cuffe/Wainer descendant, at 1:45 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater.
At 5:30 p.m., the museum will open a new exhibit, the “Cuffe Kitchen Gallery.” The multi-media exhibit will highlight the gallery, which recreates an 18th century kitchen, the wooden panels of which came from Cuffe’s home in Westport. Funded in part by Mass Humanities, the exhibit will provide an opportunity to ponder the social and racial issues faced by Cuffe. A reception will follow in the Jacobs Family Gallery.
The evening will conclude with a keynote lecture, “Paul Cuffe, His Life and Times,” presented by award-winning Cuffe biographer, Lamont D. Thomas at 6:30 p.m. in the Cook Memorial Theater.
On Saturday, September 24, dedication ceremonies for Captain Paul Cuffe Park will begin at noon at Union Street and Johnny Cake Hill. Located on Whaling Museum property, the park is adjacent to the site where Cuffe operated his store, Cuffe & Howards.
The park’s designer, Nan Sinton, is a nationally recognized landscape designer, horticulturist and former director of public programs for Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. The president and co-founder of Sinton & Michener Associates, Inc., Sinton has designed gardens throughout North America and Europe.
The new park incorporates a large compass rose within an elaborate terrace of brick, bluestone, granite and Belgian paving blocks that recall Cuffe’s own ship’s compass – part of the museum collection. Plantings include boxwood; bayberry and sea roses donated by Sylvan Nursery, Inc., Westport, Mass. Construction and plantings were executed by G. Bourne Knowles & Company, Inc., Fairhaven. The park will include new interpretative wayside panels on Cuffe’s life, produced by New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park. The Cuffe commemorative plaque and new lighting were funded in part by a grant from the City Works Community Improvement Program, administered by the City of New Bedford Community Development Block Grant Program.
The park site previously included 20th century whaling equipment including a 1936 harpoon cannon now on exhibit in the museum plaza, and a small garden given by the Garden Club of Buzzards Bay in 2003. Club members will continue to oversee the new planting.
All events are free to the public and will be held at the Whaling Museum as part of “Old Dartmouth Roots: A Genealogy & Local History Symposium,” which is funded through a grant from the Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations (ECHO), administered by the United States Department of Education, Office of Innovation and Improvement.