After what came to be known as the Intolerable Acts by Patriots passed Parliament in 1774, Boston Harbor was shut, self-government was reduced, British troops were housed in Boston homes, and British officers accused of crimes had their trials on the friendly shores of England.
What would Cuff of Bellingham in the same colony think of these intolerable acts compared to his own trials and tribulation in the same year the will of his late owner was probated?
Samuel Darling had given Cuff a choice as to which of four sons to be enslaved by.
“[A]s to my Negro Man slave named Cuff I give to my four Sons aforesd for him to Chuse which of them he will to be his Master.”
And if Cuff chose not to choose among the sons, he was to “be at [the executor’s] dispose.”
“[I]f he the said Negro refuses to Chuse his Master my Executor or his Assigns shall be his Master to be at their dispose” (Massachusetts).
After Samuel Darling died, the “Negro Slave” was appraised with Darling’s other chattel property among “beds & bedding bedsteads & Cords,” hogshead barrels, beehives, wooden bowls and more (Suffolk). However, he was appraised as the most valuable item other than real estate, indicating that he was a man in his prime working years. In contrast, a few years earlier in neighboring Mendon, “one old negro fellow with his Clothes Bed and Beding” was appraised for about the same amount as the total for a cider press, mill and trough and an iron key, and all among the least valued in the inventory. This indicates that this poor man was well past his working years.
The “Negro Slave” mentioned in Darling’s will was more than likely Cuff, although it cannot be said with certainty without more discoveries.
Is Cuff the same man who fathered Phoebe Darling, born in Mendon?
According to a newspaper article on the occasion of her one hundredth birthday in 1877, Phoebe’s parents were from Africa. They were captured during a war with a neighboring tribe and from there sold into slavery to a white person (Centennarian).
It is not commonly known that Americans and Europeans did not generally go into the continent’s interior to capture Africans. Instead, West African rulers and traders brought the captured tribespeople to castles on the West and Central African coast to sell (African).
The article went on to say that Phoebe’s mother initially escaped capture but was discovered when the couple’s baby cried. The babe was taken away and never knowingly seen by them again. The pair were then sold into slavery and brought to Massachusetts. After her parents regained their freedom, they were living in Mendon, a neighboring town of aforesaid Bellingham, and gave birth to Phoebe. She lived there until she turned twenty.
After her first husband died, she moved to Hardwick where she met the six foot tall blacksmith (United), Thomas Hazzard . Like Phoebe’s parents, he had been enslaved, but in a different state, New York. He had enlisted in the War of 1812, thus purportedly thereby gaining his freedom, according to the same article. However, his actual record sheds some doubt on his release from slavery in exchange for service because he deserted after 109 days with Captain Humphrey’s 6th United States Infantry. Phoebe (Darling) Hazard’s widow’s application for a pension was denied on “ground of no honorable discharge”(Fold3).
Cuff’s name provides a small clue as to his possible origin. Today, if you were of the Akan people in Central, Ashanti or the Eastern regions of Ghana, you could easily guess correctly the day of the week many of your friends and acquaintances were born on (Appiah). Unlike traditions in the United States for the naming of the young, those on the African continent vary from region to region. Among the Akan people, the name Cuff (variant of Kofi) is given to boy babies born on Fridays. The majority of the enslaved Africans and those born of the enslaved had names their owners stamped them, stripping away traces of their ethnicities and origins.
So little is known about most of the enslaved of New England, but sometimes we can puzzle out a history piece by piece as I have attempted to do here.. Whether Cuff was indeed Phoebe’s parent we may never know. The lack of certainty is a result of the accumulation of many intolerable acts, like one more log tossed on the fires of history’s injustices.
“African Participation and Resistance to the Trade.” African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations. Lowcountry Digital History Initiative, a Digital Project hosted by the Lowcountry Library at the College of Charleston.. http://ldhi.library.cofc.edu
Appiah, Bernard. “African Names: A Guide for Editors.” Science Editor. Vol. 33, No. 1. Jan-Feb 2010. https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.680.9644&rep=rep1&type=pdf
Fold3. The National Archives. War of 1812 Pension Application Files Index, 1812-1815. Application 25897.
Massachusetts. Probate Court (Suffolk County). Probate records, 1636-1899. (Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1969-1971) Case 15616. Vol. 73, p. 56. Transcribed by Susan Elliott, 3 October 2021
Suffolk County Probate. 15513, Volume 73 (1773-1774), Page 646. Transcribed by Susan Elliott, 3 October 2021
United States 1850 Census. Online database. AmericanAncestors.org. New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2014. (Original index: United States Census, 1850. FamilySearch, 2014.)