Message to Teachers

Designed for Grades 5 – 8

Connecticut’s Social Studies Frameworks, adopted by the Connecticut State Department of Education in 2015, call for the study of Early United States History in grade 5. But recognizing that different districts teach early U.S. history at different grades, this resource is designed for use in grades 5 to 8. The frameworks strongly suggest using local and state history when teaching U.S. History at all grade levels (Frameworks, p. 5).

For Social Studies and Language Arts

Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut is based on a first-person primary source that supports student learning about colonial America and colonial Connecticut and provides students with an example of how state and local history is, as the social studies frameworks state, a “window into larger national historical themes.” It introduces students to issues of race and racism in the founding of the United States. It introduces students to the fact that slavery did not just happen in the South, and that New England, too, was founded on this cruel institution. This is important to understanding our nation’s, and Connecticut’s, founding.

And yet it is important for students to learn that the African American story is not only about slavery. Venture Smith’s story is valuable in illustrating this: he begins and ends his life as a free person.

Furthermore, students can learn from him about the life of a typical farmer/merchant/trader in the colonial period. His narrative tells us about the northeast coastal maritime economy encompassing Rhode Island, New York, and southeastern Connecticut.

Venture Smith’s life story supports the grade 5 frameworks’ emphasis on “analyzing and evaluating a variety of documents, sources, and perspectives” and the requirement that students consider the following questions (Frameworks, page 63):

  • How do Americans define freedom and equality and how have American conceptions of freedom and equality changed over the course of U.S. history for members of various racial, ethnic, religious, and gender minority groups?
  • Is America a land of political, economic, and social opportunity?
  • What was the significance of Connecticut’s contribution to America’s story?
  • Is the United States a “just” society and how has the concept of justice evolved over time?

This resource has several parts that provide teachers with flexibility. Parts I and II are Venture Smith’s narrative, part III is a brief history of colonial Connecticut, including the Native Americans, and part IV discusses slavery in this state. You can begin with parts III and IV to provide context for Venture’s arrival in the American colonies in the second half of the colonial period. Or, you can begin with Venture’s own story in order to give students a sense of the challenges as lived by a real person in colonial America, especially for an enslaved—and, later, free—person of color.

Your students are likely new to reading non-fiction, history, and primary sources—especially a text written in 1798. They may need support to understand that this is not written in a novelistic style. It is compelling nonetheless because it is a true story of a real person’s lived experience that reaches us across time.

What You’ll Find

This resource works in conjunction with other parts of this website, where educators will find more detailed curriculum connections, teacher guides, and curriculum materials, and where students will find links to a primary-source library to support inquiry projects.

Venture Smith’s Colonial Connecticut is designed to build on Where I Live: Connecticut, the social studies resource for grades 3 – 4, available at


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