East Haddam

Connecticut in Color: East Haddam Marks Venture Smith Day

NBC Connecticut

Each September, people from across East Haddam and the nation gather to remember a man named Venture Smith.

He was brought to the United States from Africa to be enslaved, but after buying his own freedom a century before the Civil War, he became a successful landowner in Connecticut, creating a legacy that’s still being celebrated today.

East Haddam town historian Dr. Karl Stofko is one of the people behind the creation of Venture Smith Day, which will be celebrated this Saturday. He’s studied Smith’s amazing story and his roots in the East Haddam area.

Venture Smith is believed to have been the son of an African king. He was stolen from Guinea and sold into slavery in the northeast in the 1730s. As legend has it, his young life was traded for rum and calico.

After decades of forced labor, Smith eventually purchased his freedom and brought his family here.

“He actually gained his freedom before the Revolutionary War. He was free while this was still a colony which was rather unheard of. There weren’t very many free Black landowners in CT at the time,” Stofko said.

“When he became free, he brought his family here to Connecticut and he started to purchase land with money that he had saved and wound up owning 134 acres, three houses, several businesses. He became a very successful entrepreneur," he continued.

Venture Smith Day is this Saturday, Sept. 10 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the First Church Cemetery in East Haddam. It's open to anyone who’d like to come. Organizers ask that guests bring something to sit on and come ready to learn and have a good time.

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