March 4: Paul Cuffee, Witness to the Faith among the Shinnecock, 1812

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.

About This Commemoration

Born in 1757, Paul Cuffee was converted to Christianity in his early twenties. He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church becoming a famous preacher and missionary to the native communities around the present-day Mastic Beach, at Hampton Bays, and at Montauk, all on Long Island, New York. Known as “Priest Paul,” Cuffee was instrumental in working for the survival of native tribes. He demonstrated particular gifts in bringing together a strong witness to the Christian faith in dialogue with those who held traditional native beliefs.

Paul Cuffee strengthened the permanent presence of Native Americans in the area by establishing prayer meeting grounds in several locations. These became safe havens for diplomatic talks and places where native people could practice spiritually. He was a faithful advocate for his people and their way of life. Among the fruits of his efforts was the development of many allies of European descent, thus helping to ensure that Native Americans on Long Island could retain what little land they had left. Part of Cuffee’s legacy can still be seen in the ceremonial “June Meeting” for the Shinnecock tribe that includes a Christian worship service, a tradition that continues to this day. Paul Cuffee is remembered for being a “most eloquent speaker” and is mentioned in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, the famous anti-slavery novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Priest Paul is buried on a tiny plot of land at Canoe Place in Hampton Bays, his historic gravesite diminished by development on the Long Island Railroad. His descendants  continue mission work in the area that is a direct result of Priest Paul’s efforts. His gravestone reads, “Erected by the New York Missionary Society, in memory of the Rev. Paul Cuffee, an Indian of the Shinnecock tribe, who was employed by the 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 55 years and 3 days.”


I    Almighty God, who didst empower Paul Cuffee to be a powerful evangelist and preacher and so to win many souls for Christ among the Native Americans of Long Island: Help us to proclaim thy Word with power, in the Name of the same Jesus Christ; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

II     Almighty God, you empowered Paul Cuffee to be a powerful evangelist and preacher and so to win many souls for Christ among the Native Americans of Long Island: Help us to proclaim your Word with power, in the Name of the same Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Isaiah 55: 1-5

Colossians 3: 12-17

John 16: 16-24

Psalm 100

Preface of Apostles

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

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We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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21 thoughts on “March 4: Paul Cuffee, Witness to the Faith among the Shinnecock, 1812

  1. Its not clear from the bio whether Paul Cuffee was born into a Native American tribe, as his gravestone inscription implies, or whether he was of European descent, later adopted into the Shinnecock Tribe because of his years of work among them. Clarity on this is important for understanding the trajectory of his ministry.

  2. Collect. This collect is prayed and finished just as it gets started. It is short and sweet. Perhaps too much so. And, it is interesting that in this collect the term ‘Native Americans’ is utilized – capitalized and all. Consistency is not the strong suit of HWHM. 😦

    Bio. 1st paragraph: The use of the adjective ‘native’ (twice) seems awkward. Might a better word be chosen? Maybe ‘Native American tribes’ and ‘traditional Native American beliefs’?

  3. I am sure Priest Paul was a devout and holy man, beloved of the Shinnecock people. But his impact is pretty localized, and perhaps he is better honored as a “local saint” than included in the larger HWHM calendar. This has a whiff of “We need to find a Native American to put on the list” on the part of SCLM,

    • I agree; and he was a Presbyterian, with which there is nothing wrong, but this is supposed to be an Episcopalian site, and I don’t see that he was a towering enough figure in the Christian landscape to warrant ecumenical commemoration.

  4. I’d change the adjective modifying “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” from “famous” to “influential.” Danielle Steel’s novels may be “famous,” but they don’t amount to a hill of beans.

  5. Like the other posters, I’m sure Priest Paul is a great Christian, but he’s not one of ours. Despite the title, HWHM is not a dictionary of saints. It’s the calendar of the Episcopal Church and as such should concentrate on “saints” who connect to our own tradition and history. Besides, we’ve already got at least one Native American convert/missionary in the book (David Pendleton Oakerhater, September 1).
    My complaint isn’t so much that HWHM has added so many Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Presbyterians but that it has neglected so many equally worthy people who were faithful Anglicans or Episcopalians. And many of those it’s left out had a far greater impact on the development of our church and the nations it serves than many of those that have been given a date.
    Among the Americans (either by nationality or activity) who I think deserve a look are David Brainerd (missionary to the Delewares/Lenape); John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg (priest and patriot); James Madison, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson (vestrymen and fathers of religious liberty); John Marshall (church builder and judge); Richard Channing Moore and William Meade (bishops, “the Ezra and Nehemiah” of the Diocese of Virginia), Sally Louisa Tompkins (nursing pioneer and philanthropist), Anna Ella Carroll (“the woman who saved the Union”); Elizabeth Van Lew (humanitarian and Union spy); Robert E. Lee (churchman and post-war reconciler); John Johns (bishop, “twice savior” of Episcopal unity); Mary McLeod Bethune (educational pioneer); Franklin and Eleanore Roosevelt and Fiorello La Guardia (politicians).
    Neglected Anglicans include John Colet (Christian humanist and educational pioneer); Benjamin Jowett, Rowland Williams, and Henry Bristow Wilson (scholars and theologians); John Colenso (theologian and defender of African rights); and Dorothy Sayers (author, Christian humanist, and Anglican apologist).
    As for important theologians and the like (mostly pre-Reformation), how about Origen, Cassiodorus (monastic founder and encyclopedist), Ulphilas (the “Apostle to the Goths”), Pseudo-Dionysius, Rhabanus Maurus (“Praeceptor Germaniae”), John Scotus Eriugena (theologian and translator), Gerbert d’Aurillac (Sylvester II, pope and scientist), Heloise and Abelard, William of Occam, Peter Lombard, Desiderius Erasmus (humanist and translator), and Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (“the father of liberal theology”)?

    • Steve.
      I think that we ought to be making a list of those included in HWHM for Trial Use that we believe should be quietly dropped at GC 2012.
      Such a list would be a good thing to share with our Deputies as I would guess that not many of them are following this blog as we are.
      If this information is not shared with them many of these commemorations for Trial Use may become part of our calendar.
      [Note: Those for Trial Use are always marked by [brackets] in the hard copy – but on this blog those brackets are sometimes left out, as they are today for Paul Cuffee.]

    • Generally speaking I think that fewer rather than more commemorations is a good rule, but I do agree that space ought to be found for Erasmus.

  6. David Brainerd wa indeed a great missionary to native Americans, but he, like Preist Paul, was a Presbyterian.

    • And a good one, too. Thanks for the correction — I missed the extra S in his sponsoring organization.

    • Allow me to suggest that being a presbyterian might not be a sufficient reason for opposing a commemoration. For the first 150 years of the life of the Church of England, presbyterians were members of the church in good standing and the decision to drive them out at the restoration of the monarchy made us a less comprehensive church. Cranmer’s biographer Diarmaid MacCulloch has a very interesting article on this, e-mail me for the reference or check out the most recent entry on

  7. I wholeheartedly agree with Steve Lusk. One of the many things that HWHM can do is to inform us and our parishioners of the great diversity of gifts and talents in the Epicopal/Anglican traditions. As I read his lists I thought, again and agian, why ISN’T this person here.

    And yet again, on Native/native etc, I beg the editors to set up a style book or use oneof the several excellent ones available. Standardizing such usage is NOT in infringement on a writer’s creativity. So says the ol’ retired English professor.

  8. I don’t see this one as belonging in the national church’s calendar. It’s a significant local observance, as are outstanding individuals within circumscribed areas of concern. If anything, he might be included in a grouping of those who labored on behalf of Native Americans in religious and social-economic living conditions and in defense of their rights and human dignity. I’m not even sure I understand his accomplishments as referenced in the write-up.
    “instrumental in working for the survival of native tribes.”
    I don’t know what he did — anything he did — in this regard as related in the bio.
    He demonstrated particular gifts in bringing together a strong witness to the Christian faith in dialogue with those who held traditional native beliefs.
    I know this hurdle is difficult to clear, but I have no idea what particular “particular gifts” he might have possessed based on the write-up. It gives no particulars!
    “diplomatic talks”
    Again, same thing: what’s this about? Diplomatic talks regarding what, with whom? Was he involved with diplomatic talks or simply in dedicating areas for such use?
    “faithful advocate for his people and their way of life.”
    It would be good to have one or two examples of such advocacy attributable to him.
    “Among the fruits of his efforts was the development of many allies of European descent”
    What the heck does this mean?
    The collect is a petition, with a biographical preface and a trinitarian conclusion, plain and simple. (And no “so that” clause, by which those praying can live in response, corporately or individually, to this commemoration.
    I didn’t pursue the readings listed. The commemoration was a bit of an exciting tease, since my family camped at Montauk when I was a child, so I was learning something new about “my world” when I began reading, — but there was so much unexplained (or unclear) it was disappointing as I progressed through it. I just don’t see it as the stuff of our national calendar.

    • I don’t care if he was Presbyterian or Episcopalian. God’s work is not proprietary. I just don’t think he was eternally predestined to be in our calendar!

  9. Note that this Paul Cuffee should not be confused with a far better known, contemporaneous Paul Cuffee, who lived in the same general area (Westport, Massachusetts). That Paul Cuffee was a devout Quaker of mixed Indian / Black ancestry who worked to repatriate African-Americans to Sierra Leone.

    The name “Cuffee” seems to have come from “Kofi”. That name comes from the Ashanti region of Ghana, and the “far better known” Paul Cuffee took the name from his father, originally a slave, Kofi Slocum. How a Shinnecock man acquired the name I have no idea.

    The bio shows him as dying on March 7 (Perpetua & Her Companions). If this is accurate, there is no stated reason why Paul Cuffee should be honored “on the nearest convenient open day”. It does happen to be his birthday.

    Line 1, first paragraph: substitute “on March 4,” for the first “in”

    Line 3, third paragraph: delete extra space after “descendants”.

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