United States

Venture Smith: A Slave Who Bought His Own Freedom

Smith’s narrative was the first published American slave narrative.

Venture Smith is a slave who bought his own freedom and later created an autobiography that stories his history.

It’s a piece of Connecticut history and a very important story to tell, as NBC Connecticut celebrates Black History Month.

Smith was born in Dukandarra, Africa and named Broteer, the son of King Saungm Furro, according to descendants.

But Smith was captured and taken on Rhode Island slave ship to America. He was sold for “four gallons of run, and a piece of calico” according to his autobiography. He was also renamed Venture.

Venture was about 7 years old at the time, according to Karl Stofko, East Haddam Municipal Historian.

The reason there is so much knowledge of Smith’ history is because he created an autobiography called “A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, A Native of Africa: But Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America.”

“One of the earliest ones that was written and published. And was probably the only one that described what life was like in Africa,” Stofko said.

Stofko has been studying Smith and watching over his East Haddam gravesite since the 1970s. There was an archaeological dig in 2006 on the site to try to gain even more knowledge of his history.

Smith was sold from owner to owner, working in places like Fisher’s Island and Stonington. He was a slave for about three decades.

But Smith took on side-jobs to earn enough money to buy his freedom from his last owner, Oliver Smith, of Stonington, and took his last name. Eventually Smith amassed enough money to buy the freedom of his children, his wife, and other slaves.

Stofko said Smith also amassed 134 acres of land in Haddam Neck.

“Here’s somebody that had all of this adversity but still made a big success of himself,” Stofko said.

“It’s my history, my relative’s history, my descendants’ history and it will be carried on,” said Florence Warmsley, of Middletown, who is an eighth generation descendent of Smith’s.

Warmsley’s learned Smith’s story from her grandmother. Now Warmsley keeps the legacy alive with the next generation of descendants.

Warmsley said she once held an original copy of Smith’s narrative.

“I think he knew how rare it was, and how important. I think he was very intelligent and decided that in this way, he could have his own little piece of the American dream,” Warmsley said.

According to University of North Carolina Associate Professor John Sweet, who also studied Smith, Smith’s narrative was the first published American slave narrative. He also said Smith was one of the few survivors of the Middle Passage who got to tell their story in print.

Chandler Saint, co-director of the Documenting Venture Smith Project spoke with NBC Connecticut on the phone while in Ghana. He said he’s taking Smith’s story back to Africa.

“He overcame slavery and unbelievable oppression in a non-violent way which is something very few figures in history have accomplished,” according to Saint.

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