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Venture Smith (c. 1729 – 1805) was an African captured as a 10- or 11-year-old and marched to Anomabu on the Gold Coast (today Ghana) to be sold as a slave. As an adult, he purchased his freedom and that of his family. His history was documented when he recorded a narrative of his life 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 Dukandarra in "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[clarification needed] — the Documenting Venture Smith Project believe it was the area near Lake Chad. He was the son of a prince who had several wives.
As a 10-year-old, he was kidnapped by a raiding army of Africans, and marched about 1,000 miles to Anomabo on the Gold Coast (today Ghana) The boy was purchased by Robinson Mumford, steward of the Rhode Island slave ship the Charming Susanna, for four gallons of rum and a piece of calico. Mumford decided to call him Venture because he considered purchasing him to be a business venture. In late spring 1739 the ship sailed from Anomabo to Barbados and then to Rhode Island.
A slave in colonial America
Venture relays in his narrative that upon the ship's arrival in Barbados, all but four were sold to the planters, on August 23, 1739. Venture and three others sailed on to Rhode Island, arriving early fall 1739. Afterward, Venture went to live at Mumford's residence on Fishers Island, New York. Once there, he worked in the household. As he grew older, he endured harder tasks and more severe punishments.
At the age of twenty-five, Venture married another slave named Meg. Shortly thereafter, on March 27, 1754, he made an escape attempt, convinced to take flight by an Irish indentured servant named Heddy. During their trip, Heddy stole provisions in Long Island, and Venture returned him to his master.
In 1754, 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 had earned from working outside jobs and selling produce he grew. He hoped to buy freedom for his family.
Venture and Meg had two more children, Solomon in 1756 and Cuff in 1761. Venture was sold twice more. In 1760, he ended up with Capt. Oliver Smith, who permitted him to buy his freedom. Smith agreed to let Venture work for money when his labor was not required at home. In gratitude, Venture took Smith's last name for himself and his family. Finally, in the spring of 1765, Venture Smith purchased his freedom for 71 pounds and two shillings.
A free man
Smith moved to Long Island. 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 still owing Venture forty pounds.
Venture Smith suffered his first tragedy as a freedman when Solomon died from scurvy on a whaling expedition in 1772-73. In 1772, Smith purchased his pregnant wife Meg from Thomas Stanton. When the child was born, he was named Solomon Jr., in memory of his deceased brother. With the purchase of his daughter Hannah in 1775, Venture Smith had freed his entire family.
Venture Smith spent the remainder of his life in Haddam Neck, Connecticut, Connecticut, on a farm that he bought starting in 1775 with ten acres, and by 1778 he had over 130 acres. He made a living by fishing, whaling, farming his land, and trading on the Salmon River, located near his residence.
In 1798, Smith dictated his life experiences and with his family had it printed by The Bee, in New London, CT. The narrative has been the subject of some contention, regarded in many instances as "whitewashed" and inauthentic. It was suspected that the white editor manipulated Smith's story, a common practice among editors of slave narratives. After four conferences and numerous scholarly papers it is the conclusion of the most scholars and the Documenting Venture Smith Project that the Narrative is entirely Venture Smith's own words.
Smith claimed that he was well over 6 feet 1 1⁄2 inches (1.87 m) tall, weighed 300 pounds (140 kg), and carried a 9-pound (4.1 kg) axe for felling trees. This is confirmed by at the archeological project in 2007 and the runaway ad from 1754.
Notes and references
- See SlaveVoyages.org for details on the voyage #36067.
- Venture Smith website
- BBC Documentary following the DNA project in 2006
- Venture Smith
- Works by Venture Smith at Project Gutenberg
- Works by or about Venture Smith at Internet Archive
- Works by Venture Smith at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- 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. New-London, CT: Printed by C Holt, at The Bee-office, 1798.
- A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa, but Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America. Middletown, CT: JS Stewart, 1897.
- Text of Smith's Narrative
- Venture Smith at Find a Grave