What Made His People Reject A One Way Ticket To Africa And Prosperity?

September 12, 2019

Massachusetts sea captain Paul Cuffee confronted problems head-on.

In 1812, he was accused of violating a trade embargo with Great Britain and their new colony Sierra Leone. When his ship was seized, he took the matter up with President James Madison himself. 

Madison returned Cuffee’s property, but was captivated by one particular radical idea. Cuffee planned to sail to and resettle free Black folks in Sierra Leone, a country already populated by Black Revolutionary War veterans.

Before Black nationalist Marcus Garvey encouraged “Back to Africa” missions, Cuffee had already established the African Institution (AI) to do just that. 

AI chapters in Philadelphia and Boston thoughtfully considered the idea to “return home” to a land few had ever seen.

On December 10, 1815, Cuffee’s “The Traveller” vessel transported 38 passengers, including 20 children, to the shores of Sierra Leone - a historic first. 

But back home, momentum screeched to a halt.

Fellow community leader James Forten broke the news, a month before Cuffee’s death, that a packed town hall feared “slaveholders [would] want to get rid of them so as to make their property more secure.”

In other words, Cuffee’s plans for a prosperous nation of Black Americans returning to their ancestral homeland were dismissed, for fear that the price was too great to sacrifice the only home they had ever known.

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