Captain Paul Cuffee engraving, 1812, from a drawing by Dr. John Pole of Bristol, England. Photo Credit: © New York Public Library Digital Collections.

United States – Paul Cuffee spearheaded the first Black ‘Back to Africa’ initiative

Paul Cuffee spearheaded the first Black ‘Back to Africa’ initiative in United States history.  He was also the first free African American to visit the White House and have an audience with a sitting president.

As a young man, he worked as a whaling ship captain. He eventually saved enough money to purchase his own ship and go into business for himself. By 1811, Paul Cuffee was the wealthiest Black person in the United States. He was also the largest employer of free Black people. Shortly after gaining his wealth, he became disillusioned by the second-class citizenship of Black people in the United States.  Subsequently, he began making trips to Sierra Leone to explore the possibility of repatriation for himself and other free African Americans.

On Dec. 10, 1815, Paul Cuffee made history by transporting 38 African Americans from the United States to Sierra Leone on his brig, the Traveller, at a cost of $5,000. When they arrived on Feb. 3, 1816, Cuffee’s passengers became the first African Americans who willingly returned to Africa through an African American initiative.