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Venture Smith, 1729?-1805
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: Printed in 1798. Reprinted A. D. 1835, and Published by a Descendant of Venture. Revised and Republished with Traditions by H. M. Selden, Haddam, Conn., 1896
Middletown, Conn.: J. S. Stewart, 1897.

Summary

Venture Smith was born ca. 1729 in Dukandarra, Guinea, the oldest son of a prince. When he was a young child, he and his family were taken prisoner by an invading army, and his father was killed for refusing to comply with their demands. Following his father's brutal murder, Smith and his family were taken captive. When another army defeated his captors, Smith was sold to Robertson Mumford, and they departed for Barbados and Rhode Island. He grew up as a household slave and married Meg, another of Mumford's slaves, when he was 22. Shortly after, he and a few fellow slaves attempted to escape, but their plan was aborted. Smith and his wife were then sold to Thomas Stanton. Smith describes the conflicts he encountered with his new master's family and tells how he purchased freedom for his wife and family by hiring himself out to others, cutting wood, farming, and fishing. He eventually bought property in East- Haddam, New York, and continued to amass and cultivate adjacent property, eventually acquiring over one hundred acres. He died in September 1805.

In 1798, when he was 69, Venture Smith dictated his narrative to Elisha Niles, a Connecticut schoolmaster. Throughout the work, Smith emphasizes his desire for acceptance and assimilation into American society and his disappointment that his material success does not remove the limitations he faces. In addition to expressing frustrations about the insurmountable disparity between whites and blacks, Smith continues his narrative with several instances of his being cheated out of money or property by other blacks. He concludes by briefly describing the infirmities of his old age.

Works Consulted: Andrews, William L., To Tell a Free Story: The First Century of Afro-American Autobiography, 1760-1865, Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1986; Andrews, William L., Frances Smith Foster, and Trudier Harris, eds., The Oxford Companion to African American Literature, New York: Oxford University Press, 1997; Garraty, John A. and Mark C. Carnes, eds., American National Biography, vol. 20, New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Monique Prince

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