The Story of Cuff and Venus.
From: Ye Olde Meeting House 1732
Martha Sewall Curtis
(Published about 1910)
In early New England, the faithful negro slave acted as important a part in the family as the “Uncle” or “Mammy” of the South. According to the census of 1800, there were two Africans in Burlington. One of those, a noted man of his day in the town, was Cuff Trot, servant of Rev. Thomas Jones. He came with Mr. and Mrs. Jones from Dorchester and immediately installed himself chief guardian of the premises.
He it was who brought on his shoulders from “Money Swamp,” the little saplings destined to become the aged trees that now shade his former home. When Rev. John Marrett came to visit his future wife, daughter of Madam Jones, he tied his horse to one of these. When Cuff saw this, he moved the horse, remarking: “I’se fetched the gemman’s horse and hitched him where folks allers puts um, cause he’d eat up the trees me and Massa planted.”
Attaching himself to his mistress, when she came to her new home, a bride, he remained with her to the end of his life. After Mr. Jones died, he appears to have been trusted with the care of the estate. He doubtless had an important part in the events at the parsonage, April 19, 1775. He waited upon Hancock and Adams and^ Dorothy Quincy, and helped to hide their coach in Path Woods. Only once did he falter in his allegiance. When the slaves were freed in Massachusetts, he consulted Gen. Walker in regard to taking his freedom.
“Why, Cuff,” said: the General, “are you not treated well? Don’t you have enpugh to eat and drink and plenty of clothes to wear?” “Yes, massa; but it a great thing to be free.” “But if you should be sick,” urged the General, “who would take care of you?” Cuff hesitated a moment. “I nebber thought of dat,” said he. He went back to his home and remained in voluntary servitude, with no complaint.
One incident shows his ready wit. He was in the habit of
going to the centre of Woburn on horseback to make purchases for the family. On one of these occasions, he stopped at the tavern and went in, perhaps to quaff a mug of flip. When he came out, some fellows, thinking to make sport, began to treat him with mock deference. One unhitched his horse, while another held the stirrup and helped him to mount. But the laugh was not on their side, when Cuff, sitting upon his steed in state, took some stray coins from his pocket and bestowed them upon the would-be wits with the most genteel condescension.
One of his duties was to wait upon the motherless granddaughter of Madam Jones, afterward wife of Rev. Samuel Sewall. He was accustomed to take her to Divine worship, but even in that Puritanic congregation he was obliged to sit in the “niggers’ seat” in the gallery. However, he took his young mistress with him, provided doubtless with a good supply of “meetin’ seed” to keep her still. This did not always avail, and as she related, in her old age, he sometimes threatened to “throw her over the gallery rail.”
He died in April, 1813, aged about sixty-seven years, as may be read on the slate stone, which marks his grave in the Precinct Burying Ground, The selectmen with their own hands bore him to the grave, as a mark of respect for him and the/family he had so faithfully served.
The other African mentioned in the census was Venus Roe, a servant of Capt. James Reed. She was given to Swithin Reed by a Boston merchant as a present for his wife, and being a baby, was brought home to her mistress in one of Mr. Reed’s saddlebags. Like Cuff, Venus was noted for her loyalty. When the slaves were freed in the state, she went away from the only home she knew, and remained three months in Lexington, but returned “to stay.” Her taste of freedom was longer than Cuff’s, but both were satisfied. There is a family tradition of her native wit. She often went berrying with the children. Once when Venus was nowhere to be seen, they were frightened by a growling in the bushes, which reminded them so forcibly of bears that they ran away, leaving their half filled pails. Returning to reconnoitre, they found Venus coming away with a full pail of berries, while those they left were empty. Venus, being questioned, gave her opinion that “the bear ate ‘em.”
Venus died Jan. 22, 1844, aged from ninety to one hundred years, and was buried at the feet of her master and mistress, not far from the grave of Cuff. Tradition hath it that Cuff and Venus were lovers, and among the numerous tender interchanges of sentiment between them, he was accustomed to toss nosegays of pinks into her lap as they sat on Sunday, in the gallery of the old Meeting House. But the faithful submission of their race allowed neither to swerve in loyalty to the service of a lifetime, and so, like many lovers of higher birth, they went their separate ways through life.
In one of the old ballads, we read that from the grave of one of a pair of lovers, sprang a rose, and from the other a brier, and the two plants finally twined together in a true love knot.
So in the Precinct Burying Ground, where the brier roses blush in the long grass and the golden rod nods and beckons among the mossy headstones, we may see the blackberry vines wreathing around the graves of these humble lovers and tying many a love knot on the low hillocks.