What Does It Mean To Be Free?
This Inquiry Kit is designed to work with the state’s social studies frameworks that call for using evidence to learn about the past. It works with Where I Live: Connecticut’s story about Venture Smith. It presents an opportunity for students to think about slavery in Connecticut, and what that experience was like, and then to think about their own freedom (or lack thereof), and what value they place on freedom. It can be used as part of a civics discussion–about how society operates because of rules and laws but that there are limits that safeguard our freedom. Those principals and safeguards were important to our country’s founding–and yet slavery, which denied freedom and humanity to some people, was part of our country and state’s founding, too.
Venture Smith was an African native who was captured as a young boy and brought to the American colonies to be enslaved. After spending many years working to buy his freedom and that of his family, Venture became a landowner, businessman, and bought the freedom of other enslaved people in Connecticut. His published memoir from 1798 provides a wonderful primary source. We’ve provided his words side by side with a version for young readers.
What can we learn about freedom from the life of Venture Smith?
Setting the Stage: Read “Slavery in Connecticut: Venture Smith’s Remarkable Life”
- Research the definition of “Freedom.”
- Make a list of the ways you are free and the ways you are not free. Thinking about adults that you know, make a list of way they are free and the ways they are not. This could be done as a classroom activity or in small groups.
- In small groups, closely read the excerpts of Venture Smith’s memoir. Answer these questions:
Source #1 Excerpts from 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, [CT]: Printed by C. Holt, at The Bee-office, 1798. (This PDF includes the remainder of the inquiry in a printable PDF)
Excerpt 1: When Venture was a young boy
- How does Venture describe himself? Look for clues about what he compares himself to.
- What does that tell you about what it felt like to be enslaved?
- What does he hope the reader will feel after reading his story?
- What kind of work did Venture do when he was a young boy?
- How does he describe his behavior?
- Was his behavior punished or rewarded?
Excerpt 2: When Venture was a young man
- How did Venture plan to get his freedom?
Excerpt 3: When Venture was an old man
- Do you think Venture had a hard life or an easy life?
- What was he most proud of?
Based on your reading and thinking about your freedoms and Venture Smith’s life, create a poster, Google slide show, song, or poem about Venture. Include what freedom means to you.
Additional Resources for Teachers:
“Life & Adventures of Venture, A Native of Africa” by Gene Leach https://ctexplored.org/life-and-adventures-of-venture-a-native-of-africa/
“Venture Smith, from Slavery to Freedom” by John Wood Sweet, African American Connecticut Explored (Wesleyan University Press, 2014)
“Connecticut’s Response to the Emancipation Proclamation” by Matthew Warshauer https://ctexplored.org/connecticuts-response-to-the-emancipation-proclamation/
Additional stories in African American Connecticut Explored, Wesleyan University Press, 2014.
Places to Visit:
http://www.ctfreedomtrail.org/ The Connecticut Freedom Trail documents and designates sites that embody the struggle toward freedom and human dignity, celebrate the accomplishments of the state’s African American community and promote heritage tourism. As of fall 2010, there were more than 130 sites in more than 50 towns.
Venture Smith’s gravesite is located at First Church Cemetery, 489 Town Street, East Haddam, CT 06423.