Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Who Led the 1st Back-to-Africa Effort?

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root.

The person who spearheaded "the first, black initiated 'back to Africa' effort in U.S. history," according to the historian Donald R. Wright, was also the first free African American to visit the White House and have an audience with a sitting president. He was Paul Cuffee, a sea captain and an entrepreneur who was perhaps the wealthiest black American of his time. 

Cuffee was born on Cuttyhunk Island, off Southern Massachusetts, on Jan. 17, 1759, and died on Sept. 7, 1817. He was one of 10 children of a freed slave, a farmer named Kofi Slocum. ("Kofi" is a Twi word for a boy born on Friday, so we know that he was an Ashanti from Ghana.) Kofi Anglicized his name to "Cuffee."

Paul's mother was Ruth Moses, a Wampanoag Native American. He ended up marrying a member of the Pequot tribe from Martha's Vineyard, Alice Pequit.  

In 1766, Kofi purchased a 116-acre farm in Dartmouth, Mass., on Buzzard's Bay, which he left upon his death in 1772 to Paul and his brother, John. When his father died, Paul changed his surname from Slocum to Cuffee, and began what would prove to be an extraordinarily successful life at sea....

As always, you can find more "Amazing Facts About the Negro" on The Root, and check back each week as we count to 100.

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