It took nearly two hundred years but New Bedford now has a lasting tribute to Captain Paul Cuffe in the form of a park, dedicated September 24th, 2011 in his honor at the southern foot of historic Johnny Cake Hill.
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.
More than 120 guests and the public joined in the dedication ceremonies under a tent on the upper terrace of the Whaling Museum campus overlooking the park, which is sited on the southwest corner of the Museum grounds. The site is also adjacent to the location where Cuffe once kept a store in New Bedford, Cuffe & Howards.
Guests included many Cuffe descendants and numerous Native Americans representing several tribes in Southern New England. A traditional Native American smudge ceremony was performed by the members present to bless the park before local and state officials cut a ribbon opening the new park.
Native American song began the program with the Nettukkusqk Singers – Wampanoag and Nipmuc women from Rhode Island and Massachusetts – performing women’s drumming and singing traditions from their tribal communities.
Students of the Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter School of Providence, Rhode Island, read brief essays on the life and work of the Captain.
Cuffe descendant Robert Kelley, Esq., was keynote speaker on behalf of the Cuffe family.
The Rev. Pam Cole offered an opening prayer and reflected on the faith of the Quakers – the Society of Friends – the of tenets of which Cuffe and his family practiced
Other speakers included: James Russell, President & CEO, New Bedford Whaling Museum; James Lopes, Esq., Vice President, Education & Programming; Daniel Dilworth, Acting Superintendent, New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park; Lee Blake, President, New Bedford Historical Society; and New Bedford Mayor Scott W. Lang.
The Dedication was the concluding event of “Old Dartmouth Roots,” a free two-day genealogy and local history symposium at the Museum, funded in part by Mass Humanities.