and Author of
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
Originally Printed in 1798
VENTURE'S Story is presented here with commentary from many sources - both print and "web"
Compiled by R.E. Langdon
FROM: UNCHAINED VOICES - An anthology of Black Authors in the English Speaking World of the 18th Century, ...c 1996, by The University Press of Kentucky, Vincent Carretta - Editor
From 1798 printing - VENTURE - Chapter III
(with notes From: Unchained Voices)
Containing an account of his life, from the time of purchasing his freedom to the present day
MY wife and children were yet in bondage to Mr. Thomas Stanton. About this time I lost a chest containing besides clothing, about thirty-eight pounds in paper money. It was burnt by accident. A short time after I sold all my posessions at Stonington, consisting of a pretty piece of land and one dwelling house thereon, and went to reside at Long-Island. For the first four years of my residence there, I spent my time in working for various people on that and at the neighboring islands. In the space of six months I cut and corded upwards of four hundred cords of wood. Many other singular and wonderful labors I performed in cutting wood there, which would not be inferior to those just recited, but for brevity sake I must omit them. In the aforementioned four years what wood I cut at Long-Island amounted to several thousand cords, and the money which I earned thereby amounted to two hundred and seven pounds ten shillings. This money I laid up carefully by me. Perhaps some may enquire what maintained me all the time I was laying up money. I would inform them that I bought nothing which I did not absolutely want. 23 All fine clothes I despised in comparison with my interest, and never kept but just what clothes were comfortable for common days, and perhaps I would have a garmet or two which I did not have on at all times, but as for superfluous finery I never thought it to be compared with a decent homespun dress, a good supply of money and prudence. Expensive gatherings of my mates I completely shunned, and all kinds of luxuries I was perfectly a stranger to; and during the time I was employed in cutting the aforementioned quantity of wood, I never was at the expence of six-pence worth of spirits. Being after this labor forty years of age, I worked at various places, and in particular on Ram-Island, where I purchased Solomon and Cuff, two sons of mine, for two hundred dollars each.
It will here be remembered how much money I earned cutting wood in four years. Besides this I had considerable money, amounting in all to near three hundred pounds. When I had purchased my two sons, I had then left more than one hundred pounds. After this I purchased a negro man, for no other reason than to oblige him, and gave for him sixty pounds. But in a short time after he run away from me, and I thereby lost all that I gave for him, except twenty pounds which he paid me previous to his absconding. 24 The rest of my money I laid out in land, in addition to a farm which I owned before, and a dwelling house thereon. Forty four years had then completed their revolution since my entrance into this existance of servitude and misfortune. Solomon my eldest son, being then in his seventeenth year, and all my hope and dependence for help, I hired him out to one Charles Church of Rhode-Island, for one year, on consideration of his giving him twelve pounds and an opportunity of acquiring some learning. In the course of the year, Church fitted out a vessel for a whaling voyage, and being in want of hands to man her, he induced my son to go, with the promise of giving him on his return a pair of silver buckles, besides his wages. As soon as I heard of his going to sea, I immediately set out to go and prevent it if possible. --- But on my arrival at Church's, to my great grief, I could only see the vessel my son was in almost out of sight going to sea. My son died of the scurvy in this voyage, and Church has never yet paid me the least of his wages. In my son, besides the loss of his life, I lost equal to seventy-five pounds.
My other son being but a youth, still lived with me. About this time I chartered a sloop of about thirty tons burthen, 25 and hired men to assist me in navigating her. I employed her mostly in the wood trade to Rhode-Island, and made clear all expenses above one hundred dollars with her in better than one year. I had then become something forehanded, 26 and being in my forty-forth year, I purchased my wife Meg, and thereby prevented having another child to buy, as she was then pregnant. I gave forty pounds for her.
During my residence at Long_Island, I raised one year with another, ten cart loads of water-melons, and lost a great many every year besides by the thievishness of the sailors. What I made by the water-melons I sold there, amounted to nearly five hundred dollars. Various other methods I pursued in order to enable me to redeem my family. In the night time I fished with setnets and pots for eels and lobsters, and shortly after went [on] a whaling voyage in the service of Col. Smith. After being out seven months, the vessel returned, laden with four hundred barrels of oil. About this time, I became possessed of another dwelling house, and my temporal affairs were in pretty prosperous condition. This and my industry was what alone saved me from being expelled [from] that part of the island in which I resided, as an act had been passed by the select-men of the place, that all negros residing there should be expelled.
Next after my wife, I purchased a negro man for four hundred dollars. But he having an inclination to return to his old master, I therefore let him go. Shortly after I purchased another negro man for twenty-five pounds, whom I parted with shortly after.
Being about forty-six years old, I bought my oldest child Hannah of Ray Mumford, for forty-four pounds, and she still resided with him. I had already redeemed from slavery myself, my wife and three children, besides three negro men.
About the forty-seventh year of my life, I disposed of all my property at Long-Island, and came from thence to East-Haddam. I hired myself out at first to Timothy Chapman, for five weeks, the earnings of which time I put up carefully by me. After this I wrought for Abel Bingham about six weeks. I then put my money together and purchased of said Bingham ten acres of land, lying at Haddam Neck, where I now reside.--- On this land I labored with great diligence for two years, and shortly after purchased six acres more of land contiguous to my other. One year from that time I purchased seventy acres more of the same man, and paid for it mostly with the produce of my other land. Soon after I bought this last lot of land, I set up a comfortable dwelling house on my farm, and built it from the produce thereof. Shortly after I had much trouble and expence with my daughter Hannah, whose name has before been mentioned in this account. She was married soon after I redeemed her, to one Isaac, a free negro, and shortly after her marriage fell sick of a mortal disease; her husband a dissolute and abandoned wretch, paid but little attention to her in her illness. I therefore thought it best to bring her to my house and nurse her there. I procured her all the aid mortals could afford, but notwithstanding this she fell prey to her disease, after a lingering and painful endurance of it.
The physician's bills for attending her during her illness amounted to forty pounds. Having reached my fifty-forth year, I hired two negro men, one named 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. Presently after he tried to run away from me without troubling himself to pay up his note. I procurred a warrant, took him, and requested him to go to Justice Troop's of his own accord, but he refusing, I took him on my shoulders, and carried him there, distant about two miles. The justice asking me if I had my prisoner's note with me, and replying that I had not, he told me I must return with him and get it. Accordingly I carried Mingo back on my shoulders, but before we arrived at my dwelling, he complained of being hurt, and asked me if this was not a hard way of treating our fellow creatures. I answered him that it would be hard thus to treat our honest fellow creatures. He them told me that if I would let him off my shoulders, he had a pair of silver shoe-buckles, one shirt 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 slipped from me, stole my horse and has never paid me even his note. The other negro man, Jacklin, being a combmaker by trade, he requested me to set him up, and promised to reward me well with his labor. Accordingly I bought him a set of tools for making combs, and procured him stock. He worked at my house about one year, and then run away from me with all his combs, and owed me for all his board.
Since my residence at Haddam Neck, I have owned of boats canoes, and sail vessels, not less than twenty. These I mostly employed in the fishing and trafficking 27 business, and in these occupations I have been cheated out of considerable 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-Island after a load of round clams. Having arrived there, I first purchased of James Webb, son of Orange Webb, six hundred and sixty clams, and afterwards, with the help of my men, finished loading my boat. The same evening, however, this Webb stole my boat, and went in her to Connecticut river, and sold her cargo for his own benefit. I thereupon pursued 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 compensation.
Four years after, I met with another loss, far superior to this in value, and I think by no less wicked means. Being going to New-London with a grand-child, I took passage in an Indian's boat, and went there with him. On our return, the Indian took on board two hogsheads 28 of molasses, one of which belonged to Capt. Elisha Hart, of Saybrook, to be delivered on his wharf. When we arrived there, and while I was gone, at the request of the Indian, to inform Captain Hart of his arrival, and receive the freight for him, one hogshead of the molasses had been lost overboard by the people in attempting to land it on the wharf. Although I was absent at the time, and had no concern whatever in the business, as was known to a number of respectable witnesses, I was nevertheless prosecuted by this conscientious gentleman, (the Indian not being able to pay for it) and obliged to pay upwards of ten pounds lawful money, with all the costs of the court. I applied to several gentlemen for counsel in this affair, and they advised me, as my adversary was rich, and threatened to carry the matter from court to court till it would cost me more than the first damages would be, to pay the sum and submit to the injury; which I accordingly did, and he has often since insultingly taunted me with my unmerited misfortune. Such a proceeding as this, committed on a defenseless stranger, almost worn out in the hard service of the world, without any foundation in reason or justice, whatever it may be called in a christian 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 sixty nine years old. Though once strait and tall, measuring without shoes six feet one inch and an half, and every way well proportioned, I am now bowed down with age and hardship. My strength which was once equal if not superior to any man whom I have ever seen, is now enfeebled so that life is a burden, and it is with fatigue that I can walk a couple of miles, stooping over my staff. Other griefs are still behind, on account of which some aged people, at least, will pity me. My eye-sight has gradually failed, till I am almost blind, and whenever I go abroad one of my grand-children must direct my way; besides for many years I have been much pained and troubled with an ulcer on one of my legs. But amidst all my griefs and pains, I have many consolations; Meg, the wife of my youth, whom I married for love, and bought with my money, is still alive. My freedom is a priviledge which nothing else can equal. Notwithstanding all the losses I have suffered by fire, by the injustice of knaves, by the cruelty and oppression of false hearted friends, and by the perfidy of my own countrymen whom I have assisted and redeemed from bondage, I am now posessed of more than one hundred acres of land, and three habitable dwelling houses. It gives me joy to think that I have and I deserve so good a character, especially 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 --- O! that they had walked in the way of their father. But a father's lips are closed in silence and in grief! --- Vanity of vanities, all is vanity! 29
23 Want; lack, need | back |
24 Apparently Smith bought the man under the same terms that Col. Smith had purchased Venture Smith, with the agreement that the slave could redeem himself. | back |
25 Thirty tons burthen; able to carry a cargo, or burden, of thirty tons. | back |
26 Forehanded; wealthy. | back |
27 Trafficking; transporting. | back |
28 Hogsheads; casks capable of holding sixty-three gallons. | back |
29 Ecclesiates 1:2-5;
What profit hath a man of all his labour which he hath taken under the sun?
One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever.
The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose." | back
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