Children in the Slave Trade
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 [Excerpt]
In this excerpted source, Venture Smith recalls his experiences in the slave trade as a child. This source is especially important, as Smith gives a very vivid account of slave raiding, a common practice that took place during the peak years of the slave trade in the 18th century. Smith, the son of a Guinean Prince, was sold into slavery at the young age of three by his own mother. Unable to support the boy after a separation with his father, Smith was sold to a rich farmer. At the age of six, he was captured by a slave raiding party within the interior of Africa, traveling with them until he made his way to the coast two years later. This was not uncommon during the slave trade, as children were often sold to several parties before traveling the Middle Passage.
Smith, Venture. 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. New London: Printed for the Author, 1798. Reprint, Middletown: J.S. Steward, 1897. Annotated by Colleen A. Vasconcellos.
Primary Source Text
The army of the enemy was large, I should suppose consisting of about six thousand men. Their leader was called Baukurre. After destroying the old prince, they decamped and immediately marched towards the sea, lying to the west, taking with them myself and the women prisoners. In the march, a scouting party was detached from the main army. To the leader of this party I was made waiter, having to carry his gun, etc. As we were a-scouting, we came across a herd of fat cattle consisting of about thirty in number. These we set upon and immediately wrested from their keepers, and afterwards converted them into food for the army. The enemy had remarkable success in destroying the country wherever they went. For as far as they had penetrated they laid the habitations waste and captured the people. The distance they had now brought me was about four hundred miles. All the march I had very hard tasks imposed on me, which I must perform on pain of punishment. I was obliged to carry on my head a large flat stone used for grinding our corn, weighing, as I should suppose, as much as twenty-five pounds; besides victuals, mat and cooking utensils. Though I was pretty large and stout of my age, yet these burdens were very grievous to me, being only six years and a half old.
We were then come to a place called Malagasco. When we entered the place, we could not see the least appearance of either house or inhabitants, but on stricter search found that instead of houses above ground they had dens in the sides of hillocks, contiguous to ponds and streams of water. In these we perceived they had all hid themselves, as I suppose they usually did on such occasions. In order to compel them to surrender, the enemy contrived to smoke them out with faggots. These they put to the entrance of the caves and set them on fire. While they were engaged in this business, to their great surprise some of them were desperately wounded with arrows which fell from above on them. This mystery they soon found out. They perceived that the enemy discharged these arrows through holes on the top of the dens directly into the air. Their weight brought them back, point downwards, on their enemies heads, whilst they were smoking the inhabitants out. The points of their arrows were poisoned, but their enemy had an antidote for it which they instantly applied to the wounded part. The smoke at last obliged the people to give themselves up. They came out of their caves, first spatting the palms of their hands together, and immediately after extended their arms, crossed at their wrists, ready to be bound and pinioned. I should judge that the dens above mentioned were extended about eight feet horizontally into the earth, six feet in height, and as many wide. They were arched overhead and lined with earth, which was of the clay kind and made the surface of their walls firm and smooth.
The invaders then pinioned the prisoners of all ages and sexes indiscriminately, took their flocks and all their effects, and moved on their way towards the sea. On the march, the prisoners were treated with clemency, on account of their being submissive and humble. Having come in the next tribe, the enemy laid siege and immediately took men, women, children, flocks, and all their valuable effects. They then went on to the next district, which was contiguous to the sea, called in Africa, Anamaboo. The enemies' provisions were then almost spent, as well as their strength. The inhabitants, knowing what conduct they had pursued, and what were their present intentions, improved the favorable opportunity, attacked hem, and took enemy, prisoners, flocks and all their effects. I was then liken a second time. All of us were then put into the castle and kept for market. On a certain time, I and other prisoners were put on board a canoe, under our master, and rowed away to a vessel belonging to Rhode land, commanded by Captain Collingwood, and the mate, Thomas Mumford. While we were going to the vessel, our master told us to appear to the best possible advantage for sale. I was bought on board by one Robertson Mumford, a steward of said vessel, for four gallons of rum and a piece of calico, and called Venture on account of his having purchased me with his own private venture. Thus I came by my name. All the slaves that were bought for that vessel's cargo were two hundred and twenty.
. . . The vessel then sailed for Rhode Island, and arrived there after a comfortable passage. . . . I had then completed my eighth year.
How to Cite This Source
Colleen A. Vasconcellos, "Children in the Slave Trade," in Children and Youth in History, Item #141, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/141 (accessed March 8, 2014).
- Primary Sources
- The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Kidnapping [Excerpt]
- The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Slave Ship [Excerpt]
- The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Middle Passage [Excerpt]
- The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano: Slave Auction [Excerpt]
- The Dolben's Act of 1788 [Government Document]
- Request: Playden Onely to the Royal African Company, 1721 [Official Document]
- Advertisement for Sale of Newly Arrived Africans, Charleston, July 24, 1769 [Advertisement]
- Captured Africans Liberated from a Slaving Vessel, East Africa, 1884 [Image]
- Slave Coffle, Central Africa, 1861 [Image]
- 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 [Excerpt]
- Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery: Slave Coffle [Excerpt]
- Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery: Middle Passage [Excerpt]
- Children in the Slave Trade [Table]