"Do you know about Cuffeytown?" This is a fairly common question in the black community in and around Chesapeake and all of Virginia. If Cuffee is your family name, you probably know more than the average person. If not, a common response is, “I think I’ve heard about that. But where is it exactly?” The physical location is in the Longridge section of Chesapeake.
The Cuffeytown Community
A historic community formed by black people who were free, its origins can be traced to the 1700s. It is one of the oldest continuous communities in Virginia with this distinction.
It is a place rich with history and alive with stories and memories. A wealth of knowledge comes from residents and Cuffee families who keep the legacy alive through the power of oral history traditions.
Historical documents also help piece together the puzzle of the community’s legacy. One Virginia man went on a journey to uncover his family’s story. He discovered that he descended from Cuffees and learned of their 19th-century experiences. He also discovered a handwritten letter dated August 6, 1800. The letter presents a physical description of his ancestor James Cuffee and verifies his “free” status. The legacy of Cuffeytown also includes colonial-era female land ownership and political leadership. Several other families have lasting legacies in the community, including the Sivels, the Browns, the Whitehursts, and more. Many of these families are current residents and continue to uphold the legacy and prestige of the community.
There are several historic sites in the area, including Gabriel Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Zion Church. Formed in 1866, it is the oldest A.M.E. Zion church in Chesapeake. The Cuffeytown Historic Cemetery is located on the church’s property. The cemetery is the resting place for thirteen veterans who fought with United States Colored Troops (USCT) during the Civil War. The veterans and other residents established Gabriel Chapel A.M.E. Zion Church. Cuffee family members and others from the community are also buried there.
Cuffeytown Historic Cemetery and Cuffeytown 13
About 200,000 African Americans served in the U.S. Army and Navy during the Civil War, fighting for freedom and the restoration of the Union. Thirteen Civil War soldiers from Cuffeytown served in the 5th, 10th, and 36th United States Colored Troop regiments.
The Cuffeytown Historic Cemetery has a unique status, as it is not overseen by a government or veteran organization. It is the largest cemetery for Afro-Union Civil War soldiers in Virginia with this status. Several of these men were from Virginia, and several were Cuffees.
The Cuffeytown 13 are:
- Private Walter Smith, Company I
- Sergeant William Coffey, Company G
- Private Bluet Cuffey, Company H
- Corporal Emerson Cuffey, Company G
- Private Lemuel Cuffey, Company F
- Sergeant Wilson Cuffey, Company H
- Sergeant William Cuffey, Company F
- Corporal Levi Sevils, Company H
- Private Cornelius Smith, Company F
- Private James W. Smith, Company F
- Private Samuel Smith, Company H
- Private John Whitehurst, Company H
- Sergeant Thomas Van, Company C
In November 2007, the Buffalo Soldiers Motorcycle Club of Hampton Roads sponsored the dedication of a flag pole at the Cuffeytown Historic Cemetery. The dedication was the first time the American flag waved high above the Cuffeytown Historic Cemetery.
Parking is available near the Virginia Civil War Trail marker, which provides additional information on this site.
More on the African American Heritage Trail
Explore the full list of Chesapeake's African American Heritage Trail locations.