Venture Smith (
1729- 1805) was an African captive brought to the American colonies as a child. His history was documented when he gave a narrative of his life to a schoolteacher, who wrote it down and published it under the title "A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America, Related by Himself".
Venture Smith was born Broteer Furro in a place he recalls as
Dukandarrain "Guinea"--a term that at the time referred to much of West Africa. Clues in the narrative make it clear that he was from the savannah region-and the fact that he was sold at the seaport of Anomabu, in modern Ghana, suggests that he was probably originally from somewhere in modern Ghana, Togo, or Benin. He was the son of a prince who had several wives. As a young child he was kidnapped by a tribe of Africans who were employed by slave dealers. The young boy was purchased by Robertson Mumford for four gallons of rumand a piece of calico. Mumford decided to call him Venture because he considered purchasing him to be a business venture. Venture's ship then set sail for the island of Barbados.
Life as a slave in colonial America
Venture relays in his narrative that by the time of the ship's arrival in Barbados over sixty of the original 260 slaves on board had died of
smallpoxduring the trip. Some of the surviving slaves were sold to planters on Barbados, but Venture and a few others were sent to Rhode Island, where they arrived around 1737. Venture then went to live at Mumford's residence on Fishers Islandin Connecticut. Once there, he worked in the household and as he grew older endured harder tasks and more severe punishments.
At the age of twenty-two, Venture married another slave named Meg. Shortly thereafter, he made an escape attempt after an Irish
indentured servantnamed Heddy convinced him to take flight. During their trip Heddy stole provisions in Long Islandand Venture turned him in. He was returned to his master.
In 1752, Venture and Meg welcomed their daughter Hannah. Less than a month later Venture was separated from his family when he was sold to Thomas Stanton in
Stonington, Connecticut. They were reunited the following year when Stanton bought Meg and Hannah. Venture had begun saving money he earned from outside jobs and by selling produce he grew. He hoped to buy freedom for his family.
Venture and Meg welcomed two more children, Solomon in 1756 and Cuff in 1758. Venture was sold twice more, and in 1760 he ended up with Colonel Oliver Smith, who would eventually grant the slave his freedom. The colonel agreed to let Venture work for money when his labor was not required at home. In gratitude, he took Oliver Smith's last name for himself and his family.
Finally, around 1765, Venture Smith purchased his freedom for seventy-one pounds and two shillings.
Life as a freeman
Smith moved to Long Island and sought to liberate his entire family. In 1769, after cutting wood and living frugally for four years, Smith purchased his sons, Solomon and Cuff. He then purchased a black slave for sixty pounds, but the man ran away before repaying Smith.
Smith suffered his first tragedy as a freeman when Solomon died from
scurvyon a whaling expedition in 1773. However, that same year Smith purchased his wife Meg, who was pregnant, from Thomas Stanton. When the child was born he was named Solomon, in memory of his deceased brother. With the purchase of his daughter Hannah in 1775, Venture Smith had freed his entire family. Cuff Smithserved as a Continental soldier in the revolution for one year and seven months in Captain Caleb Baldwin's Company during the period 1781-1783.
Venture Smith spent the remainder of his life in Haddam Neck, Connecticut, on a farm that he bought in 1776. He made a living by fishing, whaling, farming his land, and trading on the Solomon River, located near his residence. In 1798, Smith relayed his life experiences to a Connecticut school teacher and Revolutionary War veteran Elisha Niles, who published it. The narrative is the subject of some contention, regarded in many instances as "whitewashed" and inauthentic. It was suspected that the white editor had manipulated Smith's story, a common practice among editors of slave narratives. Venture Smith died in 1805.
Smith (or his editor) claimed that he was well over six feet tall, weighed 300 pounds, and carried a nine pound axe for felling trees. From these and other elements of his life, Smith became known as the black
Paul Bunyan, although unlike Paul Bunyan, he was a real person.
During the summer of 2006 and with permission of over a dozen of his living descendants, scientists dug up Smith's grave to look for artifacts and take DNA samples from the remains of Venture Smith. This will be compared with DNA taken from communities on the West coast of Africa. The hope is that his history and background can be better understood. The effort hit a snag when Nancy Barton, a disbarred Connecticut lawyer with no relation to the family, filed legal action to stop the dig, claiming it was disrespectful to Smith's memory. The case was dismissed; the family had made application to the East Haddam Probate Court and the Town's Probate Judge, Paul Buhl, had granted custody of the remains to Venture Smith's oldest living relative who qualified as next of kin. The Town Clerk, Debra Denette, had upon application based on the Probate Judge's findings issued exhumation permits authorizing the dig. This project was followed by a BBC Television documentary team, which produced the documentary A Slave's Story. (transmitted March 2007). See external links below to view.
After long consulting with the documented relatives of Venture Smith, an archaeological team exhumed up the graves of Venture and his wife and some descendants. Unfortunately, the soil in which his family was buried was so acidic that almost no bones remained. They were able to obtain some DNA evidence from the forearm bones (the only bones remaining of the entire family) of Venture's wife. However, DNA obtained is weak and inconclusive. cite news |first = Matt |last = Apuzzo |author = |coauthors = |url = http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/C/CT_SLAVES_LIFE_CTOL-?SITE=CTDAN&SECTION=NORTHEAST&TEMPLATE= |title = Archaeologists unearth slave tomb, seeking legend |work = |publisher = The Virginian-Pilot (Associated Press story) |pages = |page =A12-A13 |date = July 30, 2006 |accessdate = 2006-07-30 ]
* [http://content.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=4813 Text of Smith's Narrative]
* [http://home.att.net/~eldad.too/DadsMem012a_3Venture11.htm Venture Smith website]
* [http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediaselector/check/humber/realmedia/features/abolition/venture_smith?size=16x9&bgc=6699CC&nbram=1&bbram=1 BBC Documentary following the DNA project in 2006]
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