This is an original pay voucher authorizing the payment of 800 Pounds of “Connecticut Currency” to Colonel Oliver Smith, commander of the Connecticut 8th Militia Regiment dated November 8, 1780. Oliver Smith is also well known for his association with Venture Smith, the “Black Paul Bunyan.” This document also contains the signatures of several other famous men of Connecticut who served with distinction during the Revolutionary War in both the military and in state government.
The history of the Connecticut Militia began in May 1665, when the separate colonies of New Haven and Connecticut joined to form the colony that would become the state of Connecticut. Each colony had laws that required military training from its residents. In 1702, these laws required that all men from age sixteen and sixty, except certain professions, had to participate in regular training and to bear arms. Local militias were organized as companies and the size of these companies varied with as few as twenty-four militiamen. Each company drew is members from a designated area or town. The Connecticut 7th Militia Regiment, commanded by Colonel Worthington, was formed by men from the cities of Haddam, Guilford, Killingworth, and Saybrook.
By October 1739, Connecticut had an established thirteen regiments of militia and this number remained constant through 1767. Between 1767 and 1771, the Connecticut assembly authorized the formation of three new militia regiments, the 14th, 15th, and 16th Regiments. In May 1774, the assembly formed the 17th and 18th Regiments and, during the October 1774 Assembly, four additional regiments, the 19th through the 22nd, were formed.
When the Revolutionary War began, Connecticut recruited its first line regiments for service in the Continental Army from the militia. As Connecticut line regiments formed and demand grew, the assembly created additional militia regiments, adding the 23rd through the 25th and, by taking troops of horse from foot regiments, the assembly created five regiments of light horse.
In December 1776, the assembly formed the existing militia regiments into six militia brigades, each commanded by a brigadier general.
As noted, this pay document was for Colonel Oliver Smith. Smith was born on April 27, 1739 at Groton, Connecticut. He married Mary Noyes Denison in 1759 and had 14 children. Prior to the Revolutionary War, Smith was a merchant in the West Indies. It was during this period that Oliver Smith met Broteer Furro, later to be known as Venture Smith. Venture was born free in Guinea, Africa but was captured and sold into slavery when he was six years old. As a slave, Venture was sold over thirty times due to his size and his unwillingness to cooperate with his slave masters. Around 1760, Venture and his wife were abused by their slave master in Stonington, Connecticut. Venture was determined to leave them and convinced then-Captain Oliver Smith to purchase him with the intent to let him buy his freedom. Venture finally did purchase his freedom in the spring of 1765 for 71 pounds and 2 shillings. Venture was so favorably impressed by the kindness shown to him by Oliver Smith that he took Smith’s name. Venture then went on to eventually become a farmer and, surprisingly, a slave holder himself. Venture would become famous as one of the earliest first-person chroniclers of life in the colonies, and then United States, by an African American.
Oliver Smith was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in October 1776, and then promoted to Colonel in May 1777. Then Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Smith is notable for having commanded the 8th Connecticut Regiment under Brigadier General Saltonstall in the Campaign around New York in 1776. This famous campaign involved numerous battles on Long Island, Kip’s Bay, Manhattan, Harlem Heights and Forts Washington and Lee from August 22nd to November 20th, 1776. It was only because of General Washington’s expertise at the tactical withdrawal that he was able to save his Continental Army to fight again another day.
In addition to Colonel Smith’s signature acknowledging receipt of the pay order, this order is also signed by Finn Wadsworth, and John Lawrence. Finn Wadsworth, from Farmington, Connecticut, was appointed major of brigade to General James Wadsworth and served in that capacity until 1779. He was then made a member of the Connecticut Pay Table Committee, which was responsible for military expenditures during the Revolutionary War. This document is also signed by John Lawrence, Esquire. Lawrence was born in 1719 and served as Treasurer of the State of Connecticut from 1769 until 1789.
Colonel Oliver Smith died on August 1, 1811 at age 72, in Poquonock Bridge in New London County and was buried at the Avery-Morgan Burial Ground in Groton, Connecticut.
This is a beautiful example of a pay order for a well-known Connecticut Minuteman who commanded a regiment of Connecticut Militia during the Revolutionary War and who was a notable figure in the life of the famous “Black Paul Bunyan,” Venture Smith. This example also contains the signatures of other prominent men from Connecticut who served with distinction both in the military and in state government during the war.