Area historians teaming up to produce Paul Cuffe documentary

By Shenandoah Briere | Feb 17, 2018
Photo by: Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society A silhouette of Paul Cuffe from the 1800s.

Paul Cuffe was born the son of a slave in 18th century Old Dartmouth, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a prominent businessman, educator, and advocate for voting rights.

Cuffe’s life, which took center stage at a symposium in September 2017, is now being made into a documentary by a group of historians behind the original symposium.

He was born in Cuttyhunk Island in 1759, and after years of hard work, became one of the wealthiest African Americans in the country. Notable acts in his life included bringing goods to Nantucket during the Revolutionary War.

He is also known for arguing his right to vote in both Old Dartmouth - which once stretched from Westport to Fairhaven - and the state of Massachusetts. Cuffe and his brother-in-law argued they should not have to pay taxes if they could not vote. A devout Quaker, Cuffe also paid for half the cost of the Quaker House in Westport.

The symposium and two other events - the induction of an African American and Native American trail and the launch of paulcuffe.org - were part of the 200th remembrance of Cuffe’s death.

The documentary comes after four local historians, each a part of the symposium committee felt there needed to be a full-length documentary about Cuffe. Those members included David Cole, Richard W. Gifford, Dartmouth Historical and Arts Society President Robert E. Harding, and Betty Slade.

Harding said Cuffe has remained under the radar and that now was the time to acknowledge him.

“We had scholars from all over the world come talk at the symposium and there was a great amount of interest at the time and it’s finally beginning to get some interest outside of new bedford,” Harding said. “This man who was really a great patriot and a great leader in the 1700s and we think he needs to be recognized.”

So far the team has seven video footage from the symposium and 19 interviews with various scholars, historians and descendants to work with, according to Harding

The documentary is being produced by Aaron Cadieux, a Dartmouth native behind The Bridgewater Triangle documentary film documenting southeastern Massachusetts’ supernatural history. He also worked with Dartmouth Community Television as part of a class he took at Dartmouth High School.

Cadieux said he’s excited to work on the projects and with Robert Harding who has been a huge driving force behind it.

“We had a couple of meetings and I thought it was a really interesting topic,” said Cadieux.

Cadieux is unsure when the Cuffe documentary will be coming out, however, as he is currently working on another project he is hoping to finish by the end of the year.

The symposium is online for local residents to watch at dartmouthhas.org.

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