Paul Cuffee is important in African American history as a supporter of the “colonization” movement. Paul Cuffee lived from 1759 to 1817. He was born into poverty (though not into slavery, as his father had been freed by an owner who experienced religious conversion) but became a wealthy sea captain and businessman.
In the early days of the American republic, there were a number of ideas about what to do about the problem of slavery and the perceived problem of having African Americans in the country. One suggestion was that African Americans should “return” to Africa or should move to some other place such as Haiti. Many believed that African Americans and whites could never get along. This idea of blacks leaving the US and forming their own countries was known as “colonization.”
Cuffee did not believe that whites and blacks could not get along, but he did have sympathy for the idea of colonization. This is what he is best-known for. At that time, the British had established a colony in Sierra Leone as a place for black English subjects to live. Cuffee visited Sierra Leone and had hopes for it. He eventually brought one shipload of colonists to Sierra Leone from the US. This trip was delayed by the War of 1812 and Cuffee died too soon afterwards for him to do much more in the way of colonization.
Thus, Cuffee was a self-made wealthy African American who is best known for his support of the colonization movement.