Peter Thacher.

A sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 online

. (page 10 of 51)
Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 10 of 51)
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but also as a firm and active friend of the
whole African race.

Soon after Captain Cuffee had been in
England, the Editor published a Memoir
of him in the year 1 81 2, which, though brief,
contains a more full account of events re-
specting his life, than was likely to be intro-

A 3


duced in a Discourse ; yet in this will be
found some interesting particulars, which are
not in the Memoir.

These, however, are not the principal
inducements for publishing the Discourse,
which is the production of a young man of
colouk, and said to be delivered extempore.
It does not indeed possess the polish of re-
fined erudition, or of a highly cultivated
mind ; but its imperfections enhance its va-
lue ; because they evince that the Author's
unadorned eloquence, is the result of natural
powers, which, like those of the ^dividual
concerning whom he spoke, contribute an
additional striking proof, that superior abili-
ties do not attach more to a white than to a
coloured skin.




ALL around us is crumbling to ruins. The
globe totters on the brink of fate. The sun and
moon, with all the lesser lights of the firmament,
are about to be extinguished, and this whole
creation to sink in the night of chaos. Already
has that fearful sentence of Jehovah, " dust thou
art, and unto dust shalt thou return," been exe-
cuted on the bulk of Adam's race. Compared
with those who have taken up their abode in the
silent mansions of the tomb, few are they who
remain on the face of the earth. Before the
strokes of Death, the generations of men have
fallen and perished, even as the leaves before the
autumnal blast ; and so widely and thickly scat-
tered are their remains, that the whole world has
become a Golgotha, in the which there is scarcely
left a spot whereon one can set his foot, without
standing on the bones of our ancestors and

A 4


Contemplating this scene of desolation, a train
of reflections, incomparably gloomy and afflictive,
overshadows the mind, and drives down the
mounting spirit. What is the destruction of
splendid edifices, of flourishing cities, of the most
noble works of genius and art, compared with
that which death hath made in the family of man !
Over the wide and still expanding empire of
death, humanity wanders mourning her offspring,
the noblest workmanship of God, creation's pride
and head, laid prostrate in the dust ; the prey of
corruption and of worms. Among the fallen, she
recognizes her favorite sons, those excellent ones
of the earth, whose deeds shed a lustre over her
character, and deserve to be held in everlasting
remembrance. At their tombs she stops, and re-
counting their virtues, gives vent to her feelings
in loud and bitter lamentations. While, with
her, we weep over the graves of departed merit,
our attention is peculiarly drawn to the spot
which contains the mortal part of our late worthy
brother, Capt. Paul Clffee. There, whatever
other occasion we may have to mourn the tri-
umphs of the mortal foe, we And cause for the
liveliest expressions of grief. There, without the
least tincture of flattery, may be inscribed—
" Mere lies one whose exertions, in behalf of
oppressed humanity, have entitled him to the
esteem of the ■world, and the grateful remem-
brance of lalest posterity ."


Draw near, O ! ye sons of men, and learn, not
merely what the common subjects of mortality
teach, that "the days of man are but as vanity—
that he cometh forth as a flower, and is cut down
— that he tieeth as a shadow, and never conti-
nueiii in one stay ;" but the more important les-
son of so conducting yourselves as to secure re-
spectability in life, peace in death, and unfading
felicities in a future state.

Draw near, but let it be with respectful steps.
That Grave is peculiarly consecrated to Sorrow.
Over it Europe and America mourn; and Africa,
unhappy, bereaved Africa, pours a deluge of

Were I required to delineate a character of
distinguished greatness, I would not seek, as mv
original, one whose blood has been ennobled
through a long line of ancestry, who has had all
the advantages of fortune, education, wealth, and
friends to push him forward ; but for one who,
from a state of poverty, ignorance, and obscurity,
through a host of difficulties, and with an unsul-
lied conscience, by the native energy of his mind,
has elevated himself to wealth, to influence, to
respectability, and honor; and being thus elevated
conducts with meekness and moderation, and de-
votes his time and talents to pious and benevolent


Such an one's character deserves to be drawn
by the ablest artist, and to be placed up on high
for public imitation and esteem ; nay, the portrait
should be placed in our bosoms, and worn as a
sacred treasure ever near to the heart. Such an
one was Pall Cuffee, the son of a poor African,
whom the hand of unfeeling avarice had dragged
from home and connexions, and consigned to ri-
gorous and unlimited bondage ; subjected to all
the disadvantages which unreasonable prejudice
heaps upon that class of men ; destitute of the
means of early education ; and more frequently
stru£rjrlin£ under the frowns of fortune than bask-
ing in her smiles : by perseverance, prudence,
and laudable enterprize, he raised himself to
wealth and respectability : and, having attained
that eminence, he so distinguished himself by his
amiable and upright deportment, and his zealous
exertions in the cause of humanity and religion,
that he became, not only an object of general
notice and regard throughout the civilized world;
but even the untutored tribes, that inhabit the
regions of Ethiopia, learnt to consider him as a
father and a friend.

If ever there was a necessity for me to apolo-
gize to an audience for my inadequacy to my sub-
ject, I feel it so on the present occasion. I knew
the man. I had the honor of an intimacy with
him ; and having, from the lirst moment of my


acquaintance, an exalted opinion of his worth,
wtaii ame and a more thorough knowledge of
him has served to heighten and confirm, I cannot
but regret my inability to present him to you, as
he was. In the minds of those who were ac-
quainted with him, my deficiences will be readily
supplied by their recollections ; but of those who
knew him not, 1 must beg that they will consider
what will now be offered, not as a finished picture,
but as the rude outlines of the character of a man
who was truly great.

In his person, Capt. Cuffee was large and well
proportioned. His countenance was serious, but
mild. His speech and habit, plain and unosten-
tatious. His deportment, dignified and pre-
possessing ; blending gravity with modesty and
sweetness ; and firmness with gentleness and hu-
mility. His whole exterior indicated a man of
respectability and piety. Such would a stranger
have supposed him to be at the first glance.

To convey a further idea of him, it is necessary
to recur to his history. He was born in the year
1759, on one of the Elizabeth Islands, near New
Bedford. His parents had ten children— four
sons and six daughters. He was the youngest of
the sons. His father died when he was about 14
years of age, at which time he had learnt but little
more than his alphabet ; and having from thence,
with his brothers, the care of his mother and sis-


ters devolving upon him, he had but little oppor±>
tunity for the acquisitions of literature. Indeed,
he never had any schooling, but obtained what
learning he had by his own indefatigable exer-
tions, and the scanty aids which he occasionally
received from persons who were friendly towards
him. By these means, however, he advanced to
a considerable proficiency in arithmetic, and skill
in navigation. Of his talent for receiving learn-
ing, we may form an estimate from the fact, that
he acquired such a knowledge of navigation in
two weeks, as enabled him to command his vessel
in the voyages which he made to Russia, to Eng-
land, to Africa, to the West India Islands, as well
as to a number of different ports in the southern
section of the United States.

His mind, it appears, was early inclined to the
pursuits of commerce. Before he was grown to
manhood, he made several voyages to the West
Indies, and along the American coast. At the
a^e of 20, he commenced business for himself, in
a small open boat. With this, he set out trading
to the neighbouring towns and settlements ; and,
though Providence seemed rather unpropitious to
him at iirst, by perseverance, prudence, and in-
dustry, his resources were so blessed with an in-
crease, that, after a while, he was enabled to ob-
tain a good sized schooner. In this vessel h
enlarged the sphere of his action: trading to



more distant places, and in articles requiring a
larger capital ; and thus, in the process of titne ?
he became owner of one brig, afterwards of two,
then he added a ship, and so on until 1806, at
which time he was possessed of one ship, two
brigs, and several smaller vessels, besides consi-
derable property in houses and lands.

In this part of his history, though not the most
interesting, we may discover one of those distin-
guished traits of character, which rendered him
so eminently useful, i. e. a steady perseverance
in laudable undertaking, which overcomes obsta-
cles apparently insurmountable, and attains its
object while others fall back in despair.

Shall I say to you, my African brethren, i( go
and do likewise?" Subjected, as we too gene-
rally are, to the multiplied eviis of poverty, made
more intolerant by the prejudices which prevail
against us, his example is worthy our imitation.
It is only by an honest, industrious, and prudent
husbanding of the means which are placed in our
power, that we can hope to rise on the scale of

Persons in indigent circumstances, even while
neglecting to do what good they can, are very apt
to entertain so exalted an opinion of their own
benevolence, as to suppose, if they had wealth,
they would abound in deeds of philanthropy and
charity. But when, in the vicissitudes of human



affairs, their condition becomes improved, their
charitable intentions generally decrease, in the
same ratio that their abilities to execute them in-
crease. Thus the same man, who was once
loudest in his declamations against the rich, for
their want of liberality and compassion to the
poor, on a change of circumstances, is frequently
found equally as unfeeling and illiberal as they ?
towards those, whom Providence has continued
in the humble walks from which he was raised,
But Capt. Cuffee was a noble exception. He
rose like the sun, diffusing wider and wider the
rays of his beneficence ; until having attained his
zenith, even the nations beyond the seas were
inade to rejoice in his beams. Inspired, in early
life, with a desire of benefiting his fellow men,
the extent of his means might always be deter-'
mined by the sphere of his usefulness.

When the state of his affairs were such as to
render it necessary that all his resources should
be employed in the promotion of his private in-
terests, he Avas nevertheless, as far as was consist-
ent with this primary object, always willing to
advance the interests of his friends, and of the
community at large.

Hence, during the rigours of winter, when he
was detained from going abroad in the pursuits
of business, he usually devoted his time to the
teaching of navigation to the young men of the



neighbourhood and the family. And, even on
his voyages, when opportunity would admit, he
employed himself in imparting to those under him
a knowledge of this invaluable science. In these
ways he has raised up a number of skilful navi-
gators, both white and coloured. I said that even
when it was necessary that all his resources should
be employed to his own private advantage, as far
as was consistent with this primary object, he was
always willing to advance the welfare of his
friends and the community. But I was wrong.
He went farther. He was so conscientious that
he would sooner sacrifice his private interests
than engage in any enterprize, however lawful or
profitable, that might have a tendency, either di-
rectly or indirectly, to injure his fellow men.
For instance, he would not deal in ardent spirits,
nor in slaves, though he might have done either
without violating the laws of his country, and
with great prospects of pecuniary gain. — O! that
all Christian traders had been actuated by a simi-
lar spirit! It would have made the aggregate of
human misery an hundred fold less than it is.

In the year 1780, Capt. C. being just then of
age, was with his brother John, called on by the
collector to pay his personal tax. At that time
the coloured people of Massachusetts were not
considered as entitled to the right of suffrage, or
to any of the privileges peculiar to citizens. A


question immediately arose with them, whether it
was constitutional for them to pay taxes, while
they were deprived of the rights enjoyed by
others »vho paid them ? They concluded, it was
not; and, though the sum was small, yet con-
sidering it as an imposition affecting the interests
of the people of colour throughout the state, they
refused to pay it. The consequence was, a law-
suit, attended with so much trouble and vexatious
delay, that they finally gave it up, by complying
with the requisitions of the collector. They did
not, however, abandon the pursuit of their rights;
but at the next session of the Legislature, pre-
sented a petition, praying that they might have
the rights, since they had to bear the burden of
citizenship ; and though there was much reason
to doubt of its success, yet it was granted, and all
the free coloured people of the state, on paying
their taxes, were considered, from thenceforth, as
entitled to all the privileges of citizens. Fof
this triumph of justice and humanity over preju-
dice and oppression, not only the coloured people
of Massachusetts, but every advocate of correct
principle, owes a tribute of respect and gratitude
to John and Paul Cuffee.

In 1797, Capt. Cuffee, lamenting that the place
in which he lived, was destitute of a school for the
instruction of youth ; and anxious that his children
should have a more favorable opportunity of ob-


tainiiig education than he had had, proposed to
his neighbours to unite with him in erecting a
school- house. This, though the utility of the ob-
ject was undeniable, was made the cause of so
much contention, probably on account of his
colour, that he resolved at length to build a
school-house on his own land, and at his own ex-
pense. He did so, and when finished, gave them
the use of it gratis, satisfying himself with seeing
it occupied for the purposes contemplated. I
would not draw a contrast, brethren. The neigh-
bours, no doubt, have long since atoned for their
conduct on this occasion in a generous sorrow.
But let not prejudice denounce such a man as
possessed of an inferior soul.

But it was in his active commiseration in be-
half of his African brethren, that he shone forth
most conspicuously as a man of worth. Long
had his bowels yearned over their degraded, desti-
tute, miserable condition. He saw, it is true,
many benevolent men engaged in releasing them
from bondage, and pouring into their minds the
light of literature and religion, but he saw also
the force of prejudice operating so powerfully
against them, as to give but little encouragement
to hope, that they could ever rise to respectability
and usefulness, unless it were in a state of society
where they would have greater incentives to im-
provement, and more favorable opportunities


18 •dsscouuse ON

than would probably be ever afforded them where
the bulk of the population are whites.

Under this impression, he turned his thoughts
to the British settlement at Sierra Leona ; and,
in 1811, finding his property sufficient to warrant
the undertaking, and believing it to be his duty
to appropriate part of what God had given him
to the benefit of his and our unhappy race, he
embarked on board of his own brig, manned en-
tirely by persons of colour, and sailed to the land
of his forefathers, in the hope of benefiting its
natives and descendants.

Arrived at the colony, he made himself ac-
quainted with its condition, and held a number of
conversations with the governor and principal in-
habitants ; in which he suggested a number of
important improvements. Among other things,
he recommended the formation of a society for
the purposes of promoting the interests of its
members and of the colonists in general ; which
measure was immediately adopted, and the so-
ciety named " The Friendly Society of Sierra
Leona*." From thence he sailed to England,
where, meeting with every mark of attention and
respect, he was favored with an opportunity of
opening his views to the board of managers of
the African Institution ; who cordially acquiese-

-* The " Memoir of Capt. Cuffee" contains an Epistle from this
Society, to their countrjmen in different lands.



ing in all his plans, gave him authority to carry
over from the United States a few coloured per-
sons of good character, to instruct the colonists
in agriculture and the mechanical arts. After
this he returned 16 Sierra Leona, carrying with
him some goods as a consignment to the ** Friendly
Society," to encourage them in the way of trade*
which having safely delivered, and given them
some salutary instructions, he set sail and re-
turned again to his native land.

Thus terminated his first mission to Africa ; a
mission fraught with the most happy conse-
quences; undertaken from the purest motives of be-
nevolence ; and solely at his own expense and risk.

Returned to the bosom of his family and friends,
where every comfort awaited his command, he
could not think of enjoying repose while he re-
flected that he might, in any degree, administer
to the relief of the multitudes of his brethren,
who were groaning under the yoke of bondage,
or groping in the dark and horrible night of
heathenish superstition and ignorance. Scarcely
had the first transports of rejoicing, at his return,
time to subside, before he commenced his prepa-
rations for a second voyage ; not discouraged by
the labours and dangers he had past, and un-
mindful of the ease which the decline of life re-
quires, and to which his long continued and
earnest exertions gave him a peculiar claim. In

B 2


the hope of finding persons of the descriptioa
given by the African Institution, he visited most
of the large cities in the union, held frequent
conferences with the most reputable men of co-
lour, and also with those among the whites who
had distinguished themselves as the friends of the
Africans ; and recommended to the coloured
people to form associations for the furtherance of
the benevolent work in which he was engaged.
The results were, the formation of two societies,
one in Philadelphia, and the other in New York,
and'the discovery of a number of proper persons,
who we, re willing to go with him and settle in
Africa. But, unfortunately, before he found
himself in readiness for his voyage the war com-
menced between this country and Great Britain.
This put a bar in the way of his operations,
which he was so anxious to remove, that he tra-
velled from his home at Westport, to the city of
Washington, to solicit the government to favor
his views, and to let him depart and carry with
him those persons and their effects whom he had
engaged to «;o and settle in Sierra Leona. He was,
however, unsuccessful in the attempt. His gene -
ral plan was highly and universally approbated,
but the policy of the government would not admit
of such an intercourse with an enemy's colony.

He had now no alternative but to stay at home
ajid wait the event of the war. But the delay,



thus occasioned, instead of being suffered to damp
his ardor, was improved by him to the maturing
of his plans, and extending his correspondence,,
which already embraced some of the first charac-
ters in Great Britain and America, After the
termination of the war, he with all convenient
speed prepared for his departure, and in Dec,
1815, he took on board his brig 38 persons of the
dispersed race of Africa ; and after a voyage of
55 days, landed them safely on the soil of their

It is proper here to remark that Capt. C. in his
zeal for the welfare of his brethren, had exceeded
the instructions of the Institution at London. —
They had advised him not to carry over, in the
first instance, more than 6 or 8 persons ; conse-
quently, he had no claim on them for the passage
and other expenses attending the removal of any
over that number. But this he had previously
considered, and generously resolved to bear the
burden of the expense himself, rather than any
of those whom he had engaged should be deprived
of an opportunity of going where they might be
so usefully employed, He moreover foresaw, that
when these persons were landed at Sierra Leona 3
it would be necessary to make such provision for
the destitute as would support them until they
were enabled to provide for themselves,,

B 3


For this also he had to apply to his own re-
sources, so that in this voyage he expended out
of his own private funds between three and four
thousand dollars, for the benefit of the colony.

Whether this sum will ever be made up to his
heirs, is not for me to determine, but whether it
is so or not, this act of his deserves to be placed
on record, and handed down to posterity as a
proof of the warmth of his benevolence, and of
the purity and disinterestedness of his attachment
to the African race.

On the arrival of Capt. Cuffee at Sierra Leona,
he presented his passengers to the Governor, who
gave to each family a lot of ground in the town,
besides from 30 to 50 acres of land, according to
their number, on a spot about two miles distant
from it. Afterwards, in a letter which he wrote
to England, in answer to one which he had re-»
ceived, requiring him to say what should be done
for the advantage of the new comers, he pru-
dently advised, that a house should be built for
the accommodation of their families on each of
their farms.

His stay at the colony, at this time, was about
two months, and when he took his departure,
particularly from those whom he brought over
with him, it was like a father taking leave of his
children, receiving the tokens of their overdo w-



ing affection, and with pious admonition, com-
mending them to the protection of God,

Oh ! never, never to be forgotten scene. When
the doleful tidings shall be there announced,, that
he is numbered with the dead, what tears will flow
at the recollection of its every circumstance.

The exclusion of American vessels from the
trade of the British colonies, by the late treaty,
rendered Capt. C. (in order that he might prose-
cute his designs) very solicitous to obtain a licence
for his vessel to trade to Sierra Leona. He had,
indeed, been urged to connect himself with the
institution of London, and to sail as supercargo
in British bottoms and to British ports ; but with
this he was unwilling to comply, though he knew
the business would be very lucrative. Consider-
ing himself, to use his own phraseology, as a
member of the whole African family, he was un-
willing to leave that part of it which was in Ame-
rica, in its present state : " My wish," said he,
" is for the good of this people universally."
His last voyage had been undertaken at the risk
of having his vessel and cargo seized and con-
demned ; and, though he escaped, he could not
think it advisable to run the same hazard again.
He, therefore, wrote to his friends in England,
to try to obtain a licence for his vessel, and to
make some other arrangements which he deemed
necessary for another voyage. Whether these


arrangements were ever made, I cannot say, but
if tliey were, it was not until after he >vas seized
with that complaint which terminated his labours
and his life. He was taken ill some time in Fe-
bruary, and expired on the 7th day of September,
in the 59th year of his age.

During his illness, the subject of ameliorating

Online LibraryPeter ThacherA sermon preached June 12, 1799, before His Honor Moses Gill, Esq., lieutenant governor and commander in chief : the honorable Council, Senate and House of Representatives of the commonwealth of Massachusetts at the interment of His Excellency Increase Sumner, esq., who died June 7, 1799, aet. 53 → online text (page 10 of 51)