Do you know the stories of South Coast slavery?

Posted 6/21/20

To the editor:

Do you know what it is like to become free?

Do you know what it is like to escape enslavement, fleeing down Hix Bridge Road, past the Handy House towards the safety of New …

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Do you know the stories of South Coast slavery?

Posted

To the editor:

Do you know what it is like to become free?

Do you know what it is like to escape enslavement, fleeing down Hix Bridge Road, past the Handy House towards the safety of New Bedford?

Do you know who is depicted on the town seal and why?

Do you know who Paul Cuffe is? Do your children know who Paul Cuffe is?

Have you visited the monument honoring Paul Cuffe which stands outside the Quaker meeting house on Main Road?

Do you know the life story of Cuff Slocum brought from West Africa on a slave ship?

Do you know about Edward Davoll, a Westport whaling captain who went slaving?

Have you heard about James, enslaved by George Cadman or Dinah White, “the Property of George White Deceased of Dartmouth, Now Residing in the Town of Westport.” Or Zip White and Vilot White, all slaves associated with the Handy House?

Do you know the story of Daniel Martin, a West Indian boy who grew up in Westport and lived an adventurous life – mostly constrained by various forms of slavery.

Do you know about Captain Pardon Cook, an accomplished master mariner from Westport, who commanded more whaling voyages than any other person of color in the nineteenth century?

Westport’s past illustrates themes of freedom and “unfreedom”, in all their complexity, that we see surfacing during today’s protests. These are the local histories that do not receive enough attention in the state-mandated curriculum and that many of our local residents have never discovered. We at the Westport Historical Society also need to ensure that this history is continually amplified in order to reach diverse audiences.

We know that many of you are seeking to learn more and to gain insights into the often overlooked yet immensely significant history of African Americans in this town. I encourage you to visit the website created by collaborative effort of several local historical societies www.PaulCuffe.org (that’s Paul Cuffe with one “e”).

I encourage you to read “Went to the Devil: A Yankee Whaler in the Slave Trade” by Tony Connors and to seek out ‘If Jane Should Want to be Sold” published by the Little Compton Historical Society.

You can also discover more at the Westport Historical Society’s website, www.wpthistory.org. Or follow the Cuffe Heritage Trail (www.PaulCuffe.org) to learn more about three remarkable families of African and Native American heritage. In an era when slavery was still prevalent in both the South and North and Native Americans were being driven from their homelands, these families provided living testimony to the potentials of the human spirit across all peoples.

Understand what it is to be free.

Jenny O’Neill

Executive Director, Westport Historical Society

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Scott Pickering

Scott Pickering has been on the East Bay Newspapers team for more than two decades, since starting as a reporter for the Sakonnet Times. He's been editor of most of the papers, was Managing Editor of all the papers for many years, and became General Manager in 2012. Today he can be found posting to EastBayRI.com, steering news coverage, writing editorials, talking to readers, working with the sales team, collaborating on design, or helping do whatever it takes to get the papers out the door. Reach him at spickering@eastbaynewspapers.com.