Capitalism in Color: Religion, Companies, and Black Economic Activism in the Age of Paul Cuffe, 1807-1817 Restricted; Files Only

Rainey II, Timothy Mark (Spring 2021)

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“Capitalism in Color: Religion, Companies, and Black Economic Activism in the Age of Paul Cuffe, 1807-1817,” is a constructive and historical project focused on interpreting the public role of black religion in the African diaspora at points of intersection with a particular expression of Western empire, the modern company. Focused on the founding of Freetown, Sierra Leone in 1792 by the Sierra Leone Company, the Christian abolitionists in England who chartered it, and Black Loyalists living in Nova Scotia, I show how the political resistance of black Protestants in the settlement exposed the moral dilemmas of commerce-based abolitionism. More importantly, these Nova Scotians' protests inspired the Friendly Society of Sierra Leone, a cooperative black trading collective established in 1811. At the center of this narrative are the life and work of Captain Paul Cuffe, a wealthy black merchant, Quaker, abolitionist, and philanthropist from Massachusetts who participated in the engineering of the Friendly Society in 1811 and eventually funded the migration of 38 black Americans to Freetown in 1815. Cuffe’s papers illuminate meaningful connections between mercantilism and religion and show how business documents like shipping logs, ledgers, and letters can also be read as religious data. An interdisciplinary project at its core, this dissertation provides a historical analysis of how black political protest in West Africa challenged paternalistic orientations toward achieving black liberty, confronted the moral dilemmas embedded in European commercial sovereignty in Africa, and redefined how democracy and freedom could be imagined after slavery. “Capitalism in Color” is ultimately concerned with the ways black religious orientations have shaped discourse on the imagination of capital, human value, and freedom in an antiblack world.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1


Part One – History and African American Moral Economic Thought: A Hypothesis



i.      Proem 6

ii.    Africana Religious Narratives, Marx, and the ‘interesting’ Case of Captain Paul Cuffe 19

iii.   Paul Cuffe’s Moral Economic Thought 37

iv.   Chapter Summaries 44

v.    Coda 47


2 CAPITAL: Histories and Methods in the Study of Culture and Economy   50

i.      Freedom and the Spirit of Capital 52

ii.    Race and Capitalism Studies 62

iii.   Toward a Free Market and Unfree World 67

iv.   History and the Study of Economic and Religious Values 72

v.    Culture and the Study of Economic and Religious Values 78


Part Two – Paul Cuffe, Religion, and the Freedom Project in Sierra Leone: A Beginning


3 THE CUFFES: Slavery and Freedom in Paul Cuffe’s America 83

i.     Kofi 90

ii.    The Cuffes 98

iii.   Racial Heroism and American Progress Abroad 103

iv.   Exodus 108


4 COMPANIES: How Commercial Abolitionism and the Free Market Failed Freetown, 1807  116

i.      Abolition and Commerce 123

ii.    Benevolence and the Bottom Line: The Emergence of the Abolitionist Company in West Africa 127

iii.   Moral Anatomy of the Abolitionist Company 146

iv.   Death of the Company & Birth of a Black Moses 155


5 RELIGION: “good may be done Even in good morals and industry,” 1811    159

i.      “giving a right impulse to industry”: The African Institution’s Reimagining of Freetown with Christianity and Commerce 165

ii.    Paul Cuffe’s Economic Theology 174

iii.   Paul Cuffe’s Politics 188

iv.   Paul Cuffe’s Fragile Nation, 1817 195

v.    Conclusion: Destiny and Death 198



Epilogue 204

Bibliography 216

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