Above: Logo of The Church of Scotland
Image in the Public Domain
THE REVEREND PAUL CUFFEE (1757-1812)
Presbyterian Minister and Missionary to the Shinnecock Nation
There seem to be have been two men named “Paul Cuffee” who were contemporaries. One (the Paul Cuffee of the Wikipedia article “Paul Cuffee”) was a Quaker merchant, philanthropist, and abolitionist instrumental in the founding of Sierra Leone. He lived from 1759 to 1817. By the way, the Wikipedia article on that Paul Cuffee errs; it states inaccurately that he is the Paul Cuffee (1757-1812) who is on the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints. So I attempt to make clear the identity and accomplishments of the Reverend Paul Cuffee. Quakers don’t have reverends.
European denominations came to the New World as settlers and missionaries crossed the Atlantic Ocean. Thus the Church of Scotland planted the Presbyterian Church in what became the United States. The Reverend Francis Makemie founded the first Presbyterian congregation in the future United States in 1683; today this is the Makemie Memorial Presbyterian Church, Snow Hill, Maryland. The first presbytery, the Presbytery of Philadelphia, formed in 1706. Eleven years later, it reorganized as a synod (composed of presbyteries). The Synod of Philadelphia divided over the First Great Awakening in 1741, and the Synod of New York broke away. The two sides reunited in 1758 as the Synod of New York and Philadelphia, which reorganized in the late 1780s, becoming the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America in 1789. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) numbers its annual General Assemblies from this 1789 gathering.
Protestants of European descent had been working among members of the Shinnecock nation on Long Island since 1646. There was a cultural barrier, however. The Reverend Peter John Cuffee, a Shinnecock convert to Christianity, had more success. And his grandson, Paul Cuffee, continued the good work.
Many people knew Paul, also a reverend, as “Priest Paul.” He advocated for his people, helping to ensure they would lose no more land to white setters. Cuffee also established positive relationships with whites, who became his allies in permitting Native religious practices and cultural rights. And, in 1791, Cuffee founded the Shinnecock Presbyterian Church, Southampton, New York. It is the oldest continuously operating Native American Reformed congregation in the United States.
Cuffee worked under the auspices of the New York Missionary Society for the last thirteen years of his life. The text of his gravestone follows:
Erected by the New York Missionary Society, in memory of the Rev. Paul Cuffee, an Indian of the Shinnecock tribe, who was employed by the Society for the last thirteen years of his life, on the eastern part of Long Island, where he labored with fidelity and success. Humble, pious and indefatigable in testifying the gospel of the grace of God, he finished his course with joy on the 7th day of March, 1812, aged 55 years and 3 days.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
NOVEMBER 2, 2010 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF ALL SOULS
Almighty God, you empowered Paul Cuffee to be a powerful evangelist and preacher and so to win many souls for Christ among the Native Americans of Long Island: Help us to proclaim your Word with power, in the Name of the same Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
—Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 259
A link to the website of the Shinnecock Nation:
A link to a useful history article from which I derived useful information:
I derived other information, including the collect and scripture citations, from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), which contains the current version of the Episcopal Church’s Calendar of Saints. I recommend purchasing a copy; it is a very useful book.
Revised on December 23, 2016