Friday, July 28, 2006

Digging up the black "Paul Bunyan"

There's an interesting article on the AP wire about descendants digging in the grave of Venture Smith, a black man who was big, strong, worked hard, bought his own and his family's freedom and wrote down his story. Here is the description of Venture Smith, buried in East Haddam, Connecticut:

Standing 6-foot-1 by his own account and weighing more than 300 pounds according to local lore, Smith is said to have carried a nine-pound ax and split seven cords of wood each day. His biography describes him carrying a barrel of molasses on his shoulders for two miles and hauling hundreds of pounds of salt.

Smith's story became one of the nation's first slave narratives in 1798 and is regarded by scholars as one of the most important such works. But slave biographies — particularly those told to writers, as Smith's story was — were sometimes embellished.

And later:
Family members and historians believe Smith was born in or around modern-day Ghana. Smith's owner allowed him to work side jobs until, in 1765, he bought his freedom for seventy-one pounds and two shillings, according to his biography, which was based on the story he told to a local teacher. He then saved up to buy freedom for his wife, Meg, and their sons.

He was buried beneath a marked headstone in a small, well-kept cemetery in this riverside Connecticut town.

Archaeologists working beneath a white tent slowly began digging this week. By midweek they had gone about three feet deep, and Bellantoni said it could be next week before they locate the remains.

The remains will not be exhumed. Rather, scientists will take small samples of bone, teeth and genetic material to study. It will take months for genetic results to come back.

"He wanted the world to know his story. It was a story of optimism and hope, of someone who was brought from Africa as a slave but nevertheless freed himself and built a new life," Richardson said. "In a way, we're carrying on what Venture himself wanted to accomplish."

Hopefully, the DNA results will be positive and a man who lived a long time ago can be properly honored by his ancestors.

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