Venture Smith (1729–1805) was an African captured as a child and transported to the American colonies to be sold as a slave. As an adult, he purchased his freedom and that of his family. 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 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] — and the fact that he was sold at the seaport of Anomabu, in modern Ghana, suggests that he was probably originally from somewhere in what is now 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 boy was purchased by Robertson Mumford 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. Venture was taken aboard a ship that sailed to Barbados.
A slave in colonial America
Venture relays in his narrative that upon the ship's arrival in Barbados, over sixty of the original 260 slaves on board had died of smallpox during the trip. Some of the survivors were sold to planters on Barbados, but Venture and a few others were sent to Rhode Island, arriving around 1737. 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-two, Venture married another slave named Meg. Shortly thereafter, 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 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 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 1758. Venture was sold twice more. In 1760, he ended up with Colonel Oliver Smith, who permitted him to buy his freedom. The colonel agreed to let Venture work for money when his labor was not required at home. In gratitude, he took Smith's last name for himself and his family. Finally, around 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 without repaying him.
Venture Smith suffered his first tragedy as a freedman when Solomon died from scurvy on a whaling expedition in 1773. That same year, Smith purchased his pregnant wife Meg 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.
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 Salmon River, located near his residence.
In 1798, Smith relayed his life experiences to Connecticut schoolteacher 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 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 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, weighed 300 pounds (140 kg), and carried a 9-pound (4.1 kg) axe for felling trees. From these and other elements of his life, Smith became known as the black Paul Bunyan.
During the summer of 2006 and with permission from over a dozen of his descendants, scientists dug up Smith's grave to look for artifacts and take DNA samples from Venture Smith's remains to be compared with DNA from communities on the west coast of Africa in an effort to understand Smith's history and background better. The effort stopped when Nancy Burton, a disbarred Connecticut lawyer without relation to the family, filed legal action to stop the dig. Burton claimed that the dig was disrespectful to Smith and his memory. The case was dismissed because 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. 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 team, which produced the documentary A Slave's Story, which aired on March 2007. (See external links below to view.)
After extensive consultation with the documented relatives of Venture Smith, an archaeological team exhumed the graves of Venture and his wife and some of their descendants. Unfortunately, the soil in which his family had been 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, the DNA obtained is weak and inconclusive.
- Apuzzo, Matt (July 30, 2006). "Archaeologists unearth slave tomb, seeking legend". USA Today. pp. A12–A13. Retrieved 2006-07-30.
- Works by Venture Smith at Project Gutenberg
- 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 website
- BBC Documentary following the DNA project in 2006
- Venture Smith
- Venture Smith's Grave in East Haddam, CT