Dad's Memories - VENTURE SMITH

- 18 November 98 - 22 November 98

VENTURE Smith - A Real Haddam Neck Legend 

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: 5 BLACK LIVES - Documents of Black Connecticut, ...c 1971, by Wesleyan University Press

Introduction by Arna Bontemps


SOME slave narratives resemble novels, some favor short stories, some remind us of the as-told-to or ghost-written personal experiences or adventures found in so many books and magazines today. Some slave narratives, on the other hand, are recognizable autobiographies of survivors of the "peculiar institution" written in their own hands in the land of promise, so to speak. The narratives included in the present collection are of this kind.

They are, so far as I am aware, with one notable exception, the only autobiographies of ex-slaves living in Connecticut and recalling their deliverance in the years between 1729 and 1870 to be found in the libraries or other public collections in the state. For reasons related to other publishing plans the J.W.C. Pennington narrative, the exception, is not included.

Copies of the original editions of all these printed autobiographies of the former slaves are, of course, rare today. One such copy, as it happens, was reposing quietly in one of the libraries at Yale University when the present publication was first planned. The other four were found in the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society. All are authentic copies. All are intrinsically priceless in view of everything that has happened in the century and more since they were published, in view of the literature which, directly or indirectly, their fevered accounts influenced.

These memoirs of deliverance from captivity and bondage have turned out to be more durable than anyone anticipated, however. Extremely popular during the antislavery campaign, their appeal seemed only slightly diminshed in the decades immediately following. Then it was that efforts to distort or even erase from memory the black experience became vigorous.

Charles E. Tuttle, a dealer in old books, has told how as a boy he had noticed that copies of these memoirs of ex-slaves were gradually becoming scarce. By the time of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920's, when requests for them suddenly increased in number, copies were definately hard to find. This aroused two zealous collectors, one black, Arthur Schomburg, and one white, Arthur Spingarn, and Tuttle set out to assist them in a search. In the end the two collectors became friendly rivals and raced each other back and forth across the country and across the Atlantic to see what they could find in out-of-the-way places. Eventually both planted the seeds of special collections that now bear their names.

Even so, it took another half-century for their zeal to trickle down to a public large enough to warrant the reissue of the more significant of these memoirs. Tuttle, Schomburg, and Spingarn have accounted in different ways for the fire that ignited their similar quests, but somehow each seemed to have a sense of relevance in these memoirs that he could not bring himself to dismiss. Today those voices out of bondage seem to transmit what is now meant by "soul".

More scholarly interest may be attracted by the range of black experience in the South and in the North as recorded in these writings. Venture Smith, for example, goes to a magistrate and complains and gets a hearing after being mistreated by his owner. James L. Smith, on the other hand, tells how he was beaten almost at will by his master. One of the narrators is restless and never quite able to settle down to anything. Another plants himself in Norwich and remains. If there was any one life style resulting from the transition from bondage to freedom, these personal histories do not seem to show it.

What does come clear is a universal human need, a will to freedom.

New Haven, Connecticut
April 1971

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