Rev. Cuffee, Indian Preacher

Footnotes to Long Island History



Thomas R. Bayles

       The Rev.Cuffee was the second of seven sons of Peter Cuffee a native Indian of the Shinnecock tribe, and grandson, on his mothers side, of the Rev. Peter John. He was born in Brookhaven town probably at Wading River, on March 4, 1757. His mother was said to have been a very religious woman and for many years was a member of the Indian church at Wading River. At an early age he was bound out to major Frederick Hudson a farmer of Wading River with whom he lived and worked until he was 21 years of age.

       According to Prime's history he was converted to be Christian religion when he was about 21 and turned his attention to preaching although his education was very limited. By what authority is not known, though possibly it was through the influence of the Wading River church, of which he was a member.

       Soon after reaching maturity, he moved to Moriches and then to Poosepatuck where in 1790, he was "ordained to the work of the ministry by a council of ministers from the Connecticut Convention." He later moved to Canoe Place, (now Hampton Bays) where he lived until his death.

       In 1798, he received a commission from the "New York Missionary Society" to work with the Long Island Indians, and for the rest of his life he worked and preached among them his principal field was Montauk and Canoe Place, although he sometimes visited Poosepatuck and Islip, where there  were a few scattered members of the native tribes.

       He was a very popular preacher, and was endowed with a charming voice, a retentive memory and a very graceful manner, and was universally loved and respected. Crowds came to hear him, and it is doubtful of any minister of those days could have commanded larger or more attentive congregations.

       Churches and ministers of other denominations welcomed him to their pulpits and welcomed opportunities to listen to his preaching.

       Prime says of him" "Having enjoyed a personal acquaintance with Paul Cuffee for several years and having had the privilege of hearing him preach, the writer can bear witness that he was an interesting and affecting preacher. Though he aimed at no elegance of diction and frequently committed grammatical mistakes, these were soon lost sight in the ardor of his piety and the pathos of his appeals. The most amiable trait of his character was the unaffected humility of his heart. Naturally modest, he never aspired to high things, and was contented to be the humble instrument of promoting the glory of God and the salvation of his fellow men."

       He died on March 7, 1812, at the age of 55 and was buried in an old Indian cemetery about a half mile east of Hampton Bays railroad station, which was at an early period the site of an Indian church belonging to the Shinnecock tribe. Here a simple marble slab was erected to his memory by the New York Missionary Society, which carried the following inscription. "Erected by the New York Missionary Society in memory of Rev. Paul Cuffee an Indian of the Shinnecock tribe. Who was employed by that society for the past thirteen years of his life, on the eastern part of Long Island where he labored with fidelity and success."

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