Venture Smith's narrative

A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, A Native of Africa:
But refident above fixty years in the United State of America.
Related by Himself.

I was employed in cutting the aforementioned quantity of wood, I never was at the expence of fix-pence worth of fpirits. Being after this labour forty years of age, I worked at various places, and in particular on Ram-Ifland, where I purchafed Solomon and Cuff, two fons of mine, for two hundred dollars each.

I will be here remembered how much money I earned by cutting wood in four years. Befides this I had confiderable money, amounting in all to near three hundred pounds. When I had purchafed my two fons, I had then left more than one hundred pounds. After this I purchafed a negro man, for no reafon than to oblige him, and gave for him fixty pounds. But in a fhort time after he run away from me, and I thereby loft all that I gave for him, except twenty pounds which he paid me previous to his abfconding. The reft of my money I laid out in land, in addition to a farm which I owned before, and a dwelling houfe thereon. Forty four years had then completed their revolution fince my entrance into this exiftence of fervitude and misfortune. Solomon my eldeft fon, being then in his feventeenth year, and all my hope and dependence for help, I hired him out to one Charles Church, of Rhode-Ifland, for one year, on confideration of his giving him twelve pounds and an opportunity of acquiring fome learning. In the courge of the year, Church fitted out a veffel for a whaling voyage, and being in want of hands to man her, he induced my fon to go, with the promife of giving him on his return, a pair of filver buckles, befides his wages. As foon as I heard of his going to fea, I immediately fet out to go and prevent it if poffible. But on my arrival at Church's, to my great grief, I could only fee the veffel my fon was in almoft out of fight going to fea. My fon died of fcurvy in this voyage, and Church has never yet paid me the leaft of his wages. In my fon, befides the lofs of his life, I loft equal to feventy-five pounds.

My other fon being but a youth, ftill lived with me. About this time I chartered a floop of about thirty tons burthen, and hired men to affift me in navigating her. I employed her moftly in the wood trade to Rhode-Ifland, and made clear of all expences above one hundred dollars with her in better than one year. I had then become fomething forehanded, and being in my forty-fourth year, I purchafed my wife Meg, and thereby prevented having another child to buy, as fhe was then pregnant. I gave forty pounds for her.

During my refidence at Long-Ifland, I raifed one year with another, ten cart loads of water-melons, and loft a great many every year befides by the thieveifhnefs of the failors. What I made by the water-melons I fold there, amounted to nearly five hundred dollars. Various other methods I purfued in order to enable me to redeem my family. In the night time I fifhed with fetnets and pots for eels and lobsters, and fhorthly after went a whaling voyage in the fervice of Col. Smith After being out feven months, the veffel returned, laden with four hundred barrels of oil. About this time, I become poffeffed of another dwelling-houfe, and my temporal affairs were in a pretty profperous condition. This and my induftry was what alone faved me from being expelled that part of the ifland in which I refided, as an act was paffed by the felect-men of the place, that all negroes refiding there fhould be expelled.

Next after my wife, I purchafed a negro man for four hundred dollars. But he having an inclination to return to his old mafter, I therefore let him go. Shortly after I purchafed another negro man for twenty-five pounds, whom I parted with fhortly after.

Being about forty-fix years old, I bought my oldeft child Hannah, of Ray Mumford, for forty-four pounds, and fhe ftill refided with him. I had already redeemed from flavery, myfelf, my wife and three children, befides three negro men.

About the forty-feventh year of my life, I difpofed of all my property at Long-Ifland, and came from thence into Eaft-Haddam. I hired myfelf out at firft to Timothy Chapman, for five weeks, the earnings of which I put up carefully by me. After this I wrought for Abel Bingham about fix weeks. I then put my money together and purchafed of faid Bingham ten acres of land, lying at Haddam neck, where I now refide. On this land I labored with great diligence for two years, and fhortly after purchafed fix acres more of land contiguous to my other. One year from that time I purchafed feventy acres more of the fame man, and paid for it moftly with the produce of my other land. Soon after I bought this laft lot of land, I fet up a comfortable dwelling houfe on my farm, and built it from the produce thereof. Shortly after I had much trouble and expence with my daughter Hannah, whofe name has before been mentioned in this account. She was married foon after I redeemed her, to one Ifaac, a free negro, and fhortly after her marriage fell fick of a mortal difeafe; her hufband a diffolute and abandoned wretch, paid but little attention to her in her illnefs. I therefore thought it beft to bring her to my houfe and nurfe her there. I procured her all the aid mortals could afford, but notwithftanding this fhe fell a prey to her difeafe, after a lingering and painful endurance of it.

The phyfician's bills for attending her during her illnefs amounted to forty pounds. Having reached my fifty-fourth year, a [ ] two negro men, one name William Jacklin, and the other Mingo. Mingo lived with me one year, and having received his wages, run in debt to me eight dollars, for which he gave me his note. Prefently after he tried to run away from me without troubling himfelf to pay up his note. I procured a warrant, took him, and requefted him to go to Juftice Throop's of his own accord, but he refufing, I took him on my fhoulders, and carried him there, diftant about two miles. The juftice afking me if I had my prisoner's note with me, and replying that I had not, he told m that I muft return with him and get it. Accordingly, I carried Mingo back on my fhoulders, but before we arrived at my dwelling, he complained of being hurt, and afked me if this was not a hard way of treating our fellow creatures. I anfwered him that it woudl be hard thus to treat our honeft fellow creatures. He then told me that if I would let him off my fhoulders, he had a pair of silver fhoe-buckles, on fhirt and a pocket handkerchief, which he would turn out to me. I agreed, and let him return home with me on foot; but the very following night, he flipped from me, ftole my horfe and has never paid me even his note. The oher negro man, Jacklin, being a comb-maker by trade, he requefted me to fet him up, and promifed to reward me well with his labor. Accordingly I bought him a fet of tools for making combs, and procured him ftock. He worked at my houfe for about one year, and then run away from me with all his combs, and owed me for all his board.

Since my refidence at Haddam neck, I have owned of boats, canoes and fail veffels, not lefs than twenty. Thefe I mostly employed in the fifhing and trafficking bufinefs, and in thefe occupations I have been cheated out of confiderable money by people whom I traded with taking advantage of my ignorance of numbers.

About twelve years ago, I hired a whale-boat and four black men, and proceeded to Long-Ifland after a load of round clams. Having arrived there, I firft purchafed of James Webb, fon of Orange Webb, fix hundred and fixty clams, and afterwards, with the help of my men, finifhed loading my boat. The fame evening, however, this Webb ftole my boat, and went in her to Connecticut river, and fold her cargo for his own benefit. I thereupon purfued him, and at length, after an additional expence of nine crowns, recovered the boat; but for the proceeds of her cargo I never could obtain any compenfation.

Four years after, I met with another lofs, far fuperior to this in value, and I think by no lefs wicked means. Being going to New London with a grand-child, I took paffage in an Indian's boat, and went there with him. On our return, the Indian took on board two hogfheads of molaffes, one of which belonged to Capt. Elifha Hart of Saybrooh, to be delivered on his wharf. When we arrived there, and while I was gone, at the requeft of the Indian, to inform Captain Hart of his arrival, and receive the freight for him, one hogfhead of the molaffes had been loft overboard by the people in attempting to land it on the wharf. Although I was abfent at the time, and had no concern whatever in the bufinefs as was known to a number of refpectable witneffes, I was neverthelefs profecuted by this confcientious gentleman, (the Indian not being able to pay for it) and obliged to pay upwards of ten pounds lawful money, with all the cofts of court. I applied to feveral gentlemen for counfel in this affair, and they advifed me, as my adverfary was rich, and threatened to carry the matter from court to court till it would coft me more than the firft damages would be, to pay the fun and fubmit to the injury; which I accordingly did, and he has often fince infultingly taunted me with my unmerited misfortune. Such a proceeding as this, committed on a defenceless ftranger, almoft worn out in the hard fervice of the world, without any foundation in reafon or juftice, whatever it may be called in a chriftian land, would in my native country have been branded as a crime equal to highway robbery. But Captain Hart was a white gentleman, and I a poor African, therefore it was all right, and good enough for the black dog.

I am now fixty nine years old. Though once ftrait and tall, meafuring without fhoes fix feet one inch and [an] half, and every way well proportioned, I am now bowed down with age and hardfhip. My ftrength which was once equal if not fuperior to any man whom I have ever feen, is not enfeebled fo that life is a burden, and it is with fatigue that I can walk a couple of miles, ftooping over my ftaff. Other griefs are ftill behind; on account of which fome aged people, at leaft, will pity me. My eye-fight has gradually failed, till I am almoft blind, and whenever I go abroad one of my grand-children muft direct my way; befides for many years I have been much pained and troubled with an ulcer on one of my legs. But amidft all my griefs and pains, I have many confolations; Meg, the wife of my youth, is ftill alive. My freedom is a privilege which nothing elfe can equal. Notwithftanding all the loffes I have fuffered by fire, by the injuftice of knaves, by the cruelty and oppreffion of falfe hearted friends, and the perfidy of my own countrymen whom I have affifted and redeemed from bondage, I am now poffeffed of more than one hundred acres of land, and three habitable dwelling houfes. It gives me joy to think that I have and that I deferve fo good a character, efpecially for truth and integrity. While I am now looking to the grave as my home, my joy for this world would be full -- IF my children, Cuff for whom I paid two hundred dollars when a boy, and Solomon who was born foon after I purchafed him mother -- If Cuff and Solomon -- O! that they had walked in the way of their father. But a father's lips are clofed in filence and in grief! -- Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!


New London: printed by C.Holt, at the BEE-Office, 1798


Part 2: Narrative | Resource Bank Contents | Teacher's Guide

Africans in America: Home | Resource Bank Index | Search | Shop

WGBH | PBS Online | ©