Monday, August 11, 2008

Venture Smith Day: Connecticut Freedom Trail Event

The 12th annual Venture Smith Day Festivities will be held at Venture’s gravesite in First Church Cemetery, 499 Town Street (RT. 151), East Haddam on Saturday, September 6th starting at 1 pm until approximately 4 pm as part of the Connecticut Freedom Trail events. The program will include the reading of a Proclamation, wreath placement ceremony, as well as the annual photo shoot of Venture’s family of descendants. East Haddam Municipal Historian, Karl P. Stofko, will be commenting on his recent research on Venture Smith, an African-American slave who purchased his freedom in 1765, as well as the situations concerning Marget Smith’s gravestone and the fate of Venture’s home site at Haddam Neck. The featured speaker will be Dr. Nancy Steenburg, professor of history at UCONN Avery Point Campus at Groton. She will talk about Venture’s life as a slave and freeman in Stonington.

Please bring a comfortable chair or blanket. In the event of inclement weather we will move into the church. There will be plenty of time to renew old friendships, talk with our speakers and Venture’s descendants and partake of light refreshments. All are invited.

A brief biography of Venture Smith: Born Broteer about 1729, the eldest son of King Saungm Furro of the tribe of Dukandarra in Guinea, West Africa, Venture was captured about 1736 in his seventh year and sold for “4 gallons of rum and some calico” at Anamabo on Africa’s Gold Coast to Robinson Mumford, the steward of a Rhode Island slave ship. He was renamed Venture, having been purchased by Mumford’s own private venture. He grew up as a slave on Fishers Island, New York, which was being leased by the Mumford family at that time. About 1750 he married Meg, another Mumford slave, by whom he had four children. After a failed escape attempt in 1754, Venture was sold to Thomas Stanton of Stonington Point, Connecticut. In 1760 he was purchased for the last time by Colonel Oliver Smith, also of Southington. Colonel Smith allowed Venture to purchase his freedom in 1765 and in return Venture took the name Smith as his surname.

Venture then lived and work on Long Island to raise the necessary money to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. During these years he labored at cutting wood, farming, fishing, and spent seven months on a whaling voyage. In 1774 Venture sold all his land on Long Island and in Stonington and moved his family to East Haddam. He then began purchasing land on Haddam Neck along the Salmon River Cove from Abel Bingham and others. By his industry his farm grew to 134 acres with three houses; twenty boats, canoes and sailing vessels; two fishing businesses and a commercial orchard. His entrepreneurial ventures included river trafficking, lumberjacking, carpentry and farming. All of this was accomplished without the ability to either read or write.

In 1798 Venture dictated his autobiography to teacher Elisha Niles, which was then published in pamphlet form by Charles Holt, editor of the New London Bee. It has been reprinted many times since then. It is the only slave narrative of the 18th century that recounts life in Africa. His life story has been an inspiration to many, both black and white, over the years. Venture died on September 19, 1805, a highly respected man by all in the Haddams. He was survived by his wife, two sons, Cuff and Solomon, and seven grandchildren. Several of his descendants still live in Connecticut.

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