Venture Smith: From Slavery to Connecticut Businessman

by Khalil Quotap
Institute for American Indian Studies, Washington

D1: Potential Compelling Question

How can a former slave prosper in a colony where slavery is legal?


  • How can objects be used to support written accounts of historical events?
  • What kind of life could a former slave expect to have in the Connecticut colony in the late 1700s?
  • What is a primary source? Secondary? And how can they be used in research?


Things you will need to teach this lesson:

Domestic Artifacts: These objects have been excavated in and around structures at the Smith Homestead dig site. These materials include an incised bone knife handle, early bottle glass and a variety of 18th- and early 19th-century ceramics.


Students will read a brief summary of Venture Smith’s history and examine the artifact images found on the Smith Homestead dig site. They will use the information from the artifact to support their findings.

  • What do the artifacts tell about the person who lived there?
  • How can you be sure the artifacts are real?
  • Based on what the artifacts found, how do you think the family lived during the late 1700s?
  • How does this change the way you think of how minorities were treated in the past?
  • What does this tell you about the general population in Connecticut and their view of minorities during the late 1700s?


  • Have students share their specific evidence in response to the compelling and supporting questions.
  • Inquiry projects
    • What types of discrimination or challenges would former slaves face?
    • What employment or occupations might a former slave expect to find?
    • How was life at sea an option for former slaves?
  • Compare the experiences of immigrants today with former slaves in the colonies.
  • Have students bring an artifact from home and ask: “What would historians think about life now based on the artifacts we would leave behind?”


Place to GO Venture Smith Gravesite

Things To DO

Read Venture Smith’s own words in the book:  “A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident Above Sixty Years in the United States of America.” C. Holt, 1798. Digitized by the The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Websites to VISIT Topic Page – Slavery and Abolition

Articles to READ

“More Exciting Discoveries At The Venture Smith Archaeology Site: A Window Into The Life Of An 18th-Century African Prince, Ex-captive & Free African American Merchant-Farmer.” by Lucianne Lavin, Connecticut Preservation News, January/February 2008.