Daily Reading for March 4 • Paul Cuffee, Witness to the Faith among the Shinnecock, 1812
When Occum left the Island, another Indian, Peter John, became a faithful native preacher to his brethren. He ministered among them until his grandson, the Rev. Paul Cuffee, entered the sacred calling. He was the second of seven sons of Peter Cuffee, an Indian of the Shinnecock tribe, and born in Brookhaven, in 1757. He embraced Christianity in 1778-9, and made Canoe Place his home where he lived. His mother was of African descent, and very pious.
In 1790 he was ordained to the work of the ministry, and admitted a member of the “Strict Congregational Church of Long Island.” He received a commission from the “New York Missionary Society,” to labor among the remnants of the Long Island Indians, in which good work he continued until his death. Crowds flocked to hear his native eloquence; his manner was graceful, imagination lively, voice most musical. Churches and ministers of other denominations opened their pulpits to his excellent and affecting discourses. What was most important, his spirit was imbued with ardent piety and unaffected humility.
He died as he lived, with the smiles of his Saviour. Directing the manner and place of his interment, he also selected 2 Tim. iv. 7, 8, for his funeral sermon, and then, exhorting his family and friends to make Christ their friend, he bid them a fond and final adieu, and calmly fell asleep in death.
Where the Indian Church once stood, near Canoe Place, among the bushes and trees, his grave was dug. It was enclosed alone, and here lie the remains of the last native preacher to the Long Island Indians. A plain headstone marked the spot, and thus read:
“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 The Earliest Church of New York and Its Vicinity by Gabriel Poillon Disosway (New York: James Gregory, 1864).