November 14, 2019

East Haddam Celebrates Venture Smith’s Life With a Day of Festivities, Sept. 7

Keynote speaker will be Maisa L. Tisdale, President and CEO of The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She will present “Audacity! Bridgeport CT’s Little Liberia – A Free Black Settlement in This Slave State.”

EAST HADDAM, CT – The 23rd annual Venture Smith Day Festivities will be held on Saturday, Sept. 7, from 1 to 4 p.m. in the First Church Cemetery, 499 Town Street (RT. 151), East Haddam, Conn., where Venture Smith (1729-1805) is buried.

Son of an African king, Venture Smith became the first black man to document his capture from Africa and life as an American slave and successful black freeman in Connecticut. Well known and respected, Venture Smith spent the majority of his freedom years in East Haddam and Haddam Neck, Connecticut.  His grave is one of the original sites on the Connecticut Freedom Trail.

The keynote speaker will be Maisa L. Tisdale, President and CEO of The Mary & Eliza Freeman Center for History and Community located in Bridgeport, Connecticut. She will talk about “Audacity! Bridgeport CT’s Little Liberia – A Free Black Settlement in This Slave State.”

Other speakers will include Beth Moore, Museum Curator, Stonington Historical Society; State of Connecticut Representative Bobby Gibson; Weymouth Eustis, Connecticut Historical Wood Sculptor; and Dr. Karl P. Stofko, E. Haddam Town Historian/Venture Smith researcher.

Beth Moore, Museum Curator at the Stonington Historical Society located in Stonington, Connecticut, will talk about a recent grant awarded to the Stonington Historical Society to create a permanent “Life of Venture Smith Exhibit” at the Old Lighthouse Museum. Venture Smith, a slave of Oliver Smith of Stonington, was allowed to purchase his freedom in 1765. Venture took the name Smith as his last name and lived a freeman in Stonington until 1774 before moving to East Haddam.

Beth Moore, Museum Curator at the Stonington Historical Society will talk about “Venture’s Place in Stonington, Connecticut.”

The exhibit will also explore the history of slavery in New England while focusing on slavery in Southeastern Connecticut.Moore will also give an update about the status of a grant application to add the 26 – acreVenture Smith Home Site on Barn Island (Stonington, Connecticut) to the Connecticut Freedom Trail.

(photo caption) State of Connecticut Representative Bobby Gibson will present “From Kingdom to Kingdom, How Venture Smith’s Life Proves Why African American History Must Be Taught in Our Schools.”

In March 2019, State of Connecticut Representative Bobby Gibson submitted written testimony in support of HB 7082an Act Concerning the Inclusion of African American Studies in the Public School Curriculum to the Chairman Senator McCrory, Chairman Representative Sanchez, and esteemed members of the Education Committee.Representative Gibson will present “From Kingdom to Kingdom, How Venture Smith’s Life Proves Why African American History Must Be Taught in Our Schools.”

Connecticut Sculptor Weymouth Eustis of Chester, Connecticut will unveil his historically correct life-like carving of Venture Smith.

Weymouth Eustis, a Connecticut Wood Sculptor, who enjoys carving famous life-like figures from history, will unveil his historically correct life-like wooden statue of Venture Smith. Venture, who was often referred to as the “The Black Paul Bunyan” when he was alive, stood over six and one-half feet tall, weighed over 300 pounds, and was often seen carrying a 9-pound axe for cutting down trees.

Dr. Karl P. Stofko, East Haddam’s Municipal Historian and Venture Smith family genealogist since the 1970s, will talk about “New Information about Tamar Loomis, Solomon Smith’s (son of Venture) first wife.

Venture Smith’s family genealogy and artifacts and crafts from Ghana and other regions of Africa will be on display. A town proclamation will be presented and wreath-laying ceremony by the descendants of Venture Smith and the annual Venture family reunion photograph will take place in the cemetery by Venture’s grave.

In addition, the ladies of “Sisters In Stitches Joined by the Cloth” of eastern Massachusetts will return this year with their magnificent African American quilts and copies of Elizabeth J. Normen’s new book “Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut” will be on sale.

The ladies of “Sisters In Stitches” joined by the Cloth” of eastern Massachusetts will return this year with their magnificent African American quilts on display.

Adults and children, who are interested in learning more about Connecticut history in the 1700 and 1800s, are encouraged to attend. Please bring lawn chairs or a blanket. In case of inclement weather the celebration will move into the First Church sanctuary. There will be plenty of time to renew old friendships, talk with the speakers and Venture’s descendants, as well as enjoy light refreshments in the Parish Hall next to the cemetery.

Dr. Karl P. Stofko, E. Haddam Town Historian/Venture Smith researcher will be a speaker at the event.

For questions, call (860) 873-9375.

To review the original Venture Smith autobiography, visit  www.docsouth.unc.edu/neh/venture2/menu.html

Brief Biography of Venture Smith

Born around 1729, Venture Smith’s African birth name was Broteer; and he was the eldest son of King Saungm Furro of the tribe of Dukandarra in Guinea, West Africa. He was captured about 1736 when he was seven years old and was sold for “4 gallons of rum and some calico” at Anamabo on Africa’s Gold Coast to Robinson Mumford, the steward of a Rhode Island slave ship. Broteer was renamed Venture because he was purchased by Mumford’s own private venture. Venture grew up as a slave on Fishers Island, New York, which was being leased by the Mumford family at that time.

Around 1750 he married Meg, another Mumford slave, and they had four children. After a failed escape attempt in 1754, Venture was sold to Thomas Stanton of Stonington Point, Connecticut. In 1760, he was purchased for the last time by Oliver Smith, of Stonington. Smith allowed Venture to purchase his freedom in 1765 and in return Venture took the name Smith as his surname.

Venture then lived and worked on Long Island to raise money to purchase the freedom of his wife and children. During these years he cut wood, farmed, fished, and spent seven months on a whaling voyage. In 1774, Venture sold all his land on Long Island and in Stonington and moved his family to East Haddam. He then began purchasing land on Haddam Neck along the Salmon River Cove from Abel Bingham and others. His farm grew 134 acres with three houses; twenty boats, canoes and sailing vessels; two fishing businesses and a commercial orchard. His entrepreneurial ventures included river trafficking, lumberjacking, carpentry  and farming. All this he accomplished without the ability to either read or write.

In 1798, Venture dictated his autobiography to teacher Elisha Niles; it was then published in pamphlet form by Charles Holt, editor of the New London Bee. It has been reprinted many times. It is the only slave narrative of the 18th century that recounts life in Africa. His life story has been an inspiration to many over the years. Venture died on September 19, 1805, a highly respected man by all in the Haddams. His wife, two sons, Cuff and Solomon, and several grandchildren survived him. Several of his descendants still live in

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