Venture Smith was born Broteer Furro in 1729. He was the eldest son of a West African Prince and spent his early years in what would be present-day Guinea. At age six, an enemy tribe attacked Broteer Furro and his village in present-day Guinea. The attackers murdered his father and then kidnapped Broteer and the remaining survivors. Afterwards, they were sold into slavery and brought to New England. Upon arrival, Broteer’s name was changed to Venture. He then began his long struggle for freedom against the powerful American institution of slavery. Venture Smith’s tale of hard work, tenacity and ingenuity makes him a role model for Haddam and its citizens.
Venture Smith: The Man
Venture Smith was born Broteer Furro in 1729. He was the eldest son of a West African Prince and spent his early years in what would be present-day Guinea. At age six, Broteer was captured by an enemy tribe and sold into slavery and sent to New England. Upon arrival, Broteer's first owner changed his name to Venture. For over thirty years, Venture worked under three different masters before purchasing his freedom for 71 pounds and 2 shillings - an enormous sum for the time, enough money to purchase hundreds of acres of land. Once free, Venture adopted the last name Smith, in honor of his final owner, and began his new life as a successful business man in Haddam Neck, CT. Venture was sometimes called a “black Paul Bunyan” because of his impressive size. It is recorded that he was 6’2”, weighing 300 pounds with a 6 foot diameter waist.
A timeline of his life:
- 1729 – Broteer Furro, the first son of the prince of “Dukandarra,” is born.
- Fall 1738 or early 1739 – Broteer’s father is killed by a raiding army and Broteer is captured.
- 1739 – Broteer is taken to Anomabu District on Gold Coast of West Africa (present-day Ghana). There he was kept in a slave castle for an indeterminate amount of time.
- Mid- 1739 – Broteer and other slaves are purchased by American slavers.
- Fall 1739 – Ship carrying Venture arrives in Rhode Island. Robinson Mumford gives Venture to his sister in Newport, RI to learn some English and colonial customs. Mumford’s sister also teaches Venture English, which improves worth as a slave. It also enables him to make connections and later establish himself as a successful business man after he buys his freedom.
- 1740 – Venture is taken from Rhode Island to the Mumford homestead on Fishers Island.
- 1754 – Venture marries Meg.
- March 1754 – Venture runs away with two other slaves but later returns voluntarily.
- 1754 – Meg gives birth to their first child, Hannah.
- end of 1754 – Venture is separated from his wife, Meg, and sold to Thomas Stanton of Stonington, CT.
- 1756 – Their first son, Solomon, is born.
- 1758 – Their second son, Cuff, is born.
- 1759 – Venture is hired out by Hempstead Miner of Stonington to work for Daniel Edwards of Hartford.
- 1760 – Venture is sold for the last time to Oliver Smith Jr., who agrees to permit Venture to purchase his freedom for 71 pounds and two shillings.
- 1762 – Venture begins farming a plot of land near Stanton’s Stonington farms to earn money to buy his freedom.
- 1765 – After five years of saving money from side jobs, Venture earned enough to buy his freedom from Oliver Smith. Around this time, Venture adopts Smith’s last name, officially becoming Venture Smith.
- 1767 – Venture moves to Long Island.
- 1769 – Venture purchases his two sons, Solomon and Cuff.
- 1770 – Venture buys 26 acres in Stonington.
- 1773 – Venture purchases Meg’s freedom. That same year, Venture’s first son, Solomon, dies at sea.
- 1774 – Meg and Venture’s third son is born and named Solomon.
- 1774 – Venture sells his land in Stonington.
- 1774-1775 – Venture leaves Long Island for Haddam, CT.
- 1775 – Venture purchases his daughter, Hannah. He also buys 10 acres on Haddam Neck.
- 1777 – Venture buys 70 additional acres from Abel Bingham and builds his home. Later that year, Venture and Stephan Knowlton buy 48 acres of adjoining land.
- 1778 – Venture buys Knowlton’s share of the land.
- 1798 – Venture dictates his narrative to Elisha Niles and is published later that year.
- September 1805 – Venture Smith dies at age 77 in Haddam Neck.
Venture Smith: The Legacy
At age six, an enemy tribe attacked Broteer Furro and his village in present-day Guinea. The attackers murdered his father and then kidnapped Broteer and the remaining survivors. Afterwards, they were sold into slavery and brought to New England. Upon arrival, Broteer's name was changed to Venture and he began his long struggle for freedom against the powerful American institution of slavery. Venture spent over thirty years in slavery and had three different owners before he was able to buy his freedom for 71 pounds and two shillings. After securing his liberty, Venture settled in Haddam Neck and purchased over 100 acres of land and began several fishing, trading and timbering enterprises.
Here’s an excerpt from 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 where Venture describes his journey to freedom in his own words.
Why Venture Smith is a significant figure In Haddam history:
Venture Smith’s tale of hard work, tenacity and ingenuity makes him a role model for Haddam and its citizens. He is a portrait of a self-made man who overcame adversity, established himself as a successful mariner-merchant-farmer and earned the respect of his neighbors and associates, black and white alike. In the Anglo-dominated 18th century, it was an unusual feat for a slave to secure his freedom and then be a successful member of a predominantly white society. Venture’s life story is impressive considering its historical context: Venture lived in a pre-Civil War, pre-Civil rights movement era where the institution of slavery was a keystone of the American economy. He was, however, a young man during the American Revolution at a time when the colonies were declaring their freedom from the oppressive Britain and asserting in the Declaration of Independence, “that all men are created equal.” Ironically, that philosophy did not apply to Venture. In their book, Making Freedom: The Extraordinary Life of Venture Smith, Chandler Saint and George Krimsky note that it is remarkable that Venture was able to become a respected American and succeed in a world that he was not meant to succeed in.
Even more notable is, instead of becoming bitter over the murder of his father and the robbing of his birthright to royalty, Venture remained steadfast in his strong moral character. In 2007, the British Broadcasting Corporation described Venture “as an American role model, exemplifying kindness, integrity, honesty and perseverance.”
Venture’s life story not only enriches Haddam’s history but American history and the nation’s understanding of slavery in New England. In the 20th century and earlier, local histories and accounts were typically written by white, upper class, Anglo-Protestant males. Venture’s story is one of the few narratives that provide insight on slavery in colonial in New England from the perspective of a slave.
Venture’s homestead is cornered by the Connecticut River and Salmon River. It is located on the grounds of present-day Connecticut Yankee Atomic Power Company. The area's plentiful wildlife, vegetation, agriculture, timber, natural harbors and fisheries attracted many settlers. Haddam Neck's extensive natural resources supported the growth of mills, farms and manufactories and set the grounds for a thriving community.
In 1968, the Connecticut Yankee plant was established in Haddam Neck. It was the world leader in nuclear generation from 1980 to 1984. However it was shut down in 2007. Upon closing, the State Historic Preservation Office surveyed the site and discovered it had great archaeological significance, most notably as the Venture Smith archaeology site.
Venture’s property was located on a hillside and consisted of about eight different structures, in addition to one main structure. The main house had two floors and a partial cellar. There is also evidence of a blacksmith shop, several warehouses and a strategically placed wharf to take advantage of the natural harbors. These structures are significant because they demonstrate Venture’s involvement in the local and regional markets. Venture was not just a freed slave but also a thriving member of the community. He had strong social ties with his white neighbors in addition to the black communities.
History of the Slave Trade
Between the 10th and 14th centuries, African captives were sold in the Middle East, Spain, Portugal and in other countries as servants. In 1492, Columbus landed in the “New World.” This event marked the beginning of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade as Columbus’ journey sparked as era of exploration and conquest. In the process of searching for gold, silver and other treasures, Spanish conquistadors enslaved Native Americans. However, due to cruelty, disease, and malnutrition, the Native population dwindled and the Spanish had to seek a new source of labor.
Around 1520 the first African American slaves were imported, thus beginning the Triangle Trade Route:
- Europeans brought slaves from Africa to the Americas where they were used to harvest sugar, cotton, rum, tobacco and coffee.
- The Americas traded these raw materials with Europe, which had factories to turn them into manufactured goods.
- Europeans would then trade those supplies with Africa in exchange for slaves, starting the process over again.
It is this lucrative trade that fueled the “peculiar institution” of slavery into which Venture Smith was sold.
- Bontemps, Arna. "Venture Smith." Five Black Lives: The Autobiographies of Venture Smith, James Mars, William Grimes, the Rev. G.W. Offley, James L. Smith. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 1987. 1-33. Print.
- Lavin, Lucianne, and Marc Banks. The Venture Smith Homestead: Haddam, Connecticut. Torrington, CT: American Cultural Specialists, 2010. Print.
- "The Middle Passage." PBS. PBS, n.d. Web. 03 Jan. 2014.
- Nelson, Marilyn. "The Freedom Business: Connecticut Landscapes Through the Eyes of Venture Smith." The Florence Griswold Museum. The Florence Griswold Museum, 24 June 2007. Web. 25 Dec. 2013.
- Nelson, Marilyn, Deborah Dancy, and Venture Smith. The Freedom Business: Including A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa. Honesdale, PA: Wordsong, 2008. Print.
- Norris, C. "Voices From The TransAtlantic Slave Trade." Learn NC. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, n.d. Web. 25 Dec. 2013.
- Saint, Chandler B., and George A. Krimsky. Making Freedom: The Extraordinary Life of Venture Smith. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan UP, 2009. Print.
- "Student Activities." Scholastic Teachers. Scholastic, n.d. Web. 25 Dec. 2013.
- "The Narrative of Venture Smith." Scholastic Teachers. Scholastic, n.d. Web. 25 Dec. 2013.
- ""To Redeem My Family": Venture Smith Frees Himself and His Family." 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. New London, CT: C. Holt, 1798. 5-24. "To Redeem My Family": Venture Smith Frees Himself and His Family. Web. 25 Dec. 2013.
- "Venture Smith Describes His Enslavement." A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America. New London: C. Holt, 1798. N. pag. Learn NC. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Web. 25 Dec. 2013.