Humble, pious, indefatigable

Daily Reading for March 4 • Paul Cuffee, Witness to the Faith among the Shinnecock, 1812

The Indians on Long Island, on the arrival of the white people, were found divided into distinct tribes, or perhaps more properly, collections of families, having different names, and exercising an independent authority or control over separate portions of territory; and these tribes had, moreover, each their chiefs and head men, called sachems or sagamores, exercising authority in the conduct of public affairs, questions of war, treaties, and the payment of tribute. From the sachems of the different tribes, and sometimes from a few other head men associated with them, the lands were purchased by the white people, and from them have descended the titles to most if not all the real estate upon Long Island. Motives of honor, justice, and humanity, as well as true policy, dictated the propriety of this course by strangers, coming to settle a country already occupied by those who were the ancient and rightful tenants of the soil. The price to be paid was always agreed upon by the parties, and good faith, it is believed, was in most cases observed on the part of the white people.

The principal tribes or clans inhabiting the island at that distant period and occupying particular portions of territory, were thirteen in number, being the undisputed claimants of the tracts of land, over which they exercised political jurisdiction. . . . The Shinnecock Tribe claimed the territory from Canoe Place to Easthampton, including Sag Harbor and the whole south shore of Peconic Bay. Their sachem was Nowedina in 1640. The Rev. Paul Cuffee, son of Peter, was of this tribe. He was a man of some eloquence, and of considerable powers of mind, although his education was limited. He was on the whole a useful and respectable man, and labored to much advantage among his Indian brethren of Montauk and Shinnecock for several years. He was said to be the second of seven sons, and grandson on his mother’s side of the Rev. Peter John, who labored also among the natives of the island after the departure of the Rev. Sampson Occum, and lived to the age of eighty-eight years, having been born in 1714. His son Paul was born at Brookhaven March 4, 1757, and lies buried about a mile west of Canoe Place, where the Indian church then stood. Over his grace a neat marble slab has been placed, with the following inscription:

“Erected by the New York Missionary Society in memory of the Rev. Paul Cuffee, an Indian of the Shinnecock Tribe, who was employed by that 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 of March, 1812, aged fifty-five years and three days.”

From History of Long Island from its Discovery and Settlement by Europeans to the Present Time by Benjamin Franklin Thompson, third edition, volume 1 (New York: Robert H. Dodd, 1918).

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