Working with Teachers

Research & Education : Working with Teachers

Teachers can enliven their students’ understanding of local history through guided tours or special research projects. We offer tours of our museum exhibits, the Middletown Heritage Trail and local historic graveyards, appropriate for students in grade four and above. We also can advise teachers on special student research projects as well as ways to incorporate local historic artifacts and documents in their course curriculum.

For more information, contact us at (860) 346-0746 or e-mail us.

Workbook – A Brightly Colored Past

Ask most young people if slavery existed in New England, and nine times out of ten, they’ll answer, “Of course not, only the South had slaves.” But fourth graders in Middletown have a better understanding of this sad chapter in American history, thanks to A Brightly Colored Past, a workbook on local African-American history produced by the Middlesex County Historical Society.

The first of its kind in Connecticut, A Brightly Colored Past examines the rich history of African Americans in Middletown and the surrounding area from the Colonial era to the 1960s Civil Rights movement. The 46-page workbook has been used since 1994 in the city’s eight elementary schools as part of the curriculum on state history.

A Brightly Colored Past brings history alive with its many stories of local heroes. Among them is the African-born Venture Smith, a slave, who after years of hard work was able to buy his freedom and that of his wife and children. They lived the rest of their lives in Haddam Neck. Another chapter chronicles Revolutionary War solider Kay Cambridge, one of the many African-American men from Middletown who fought for the establishment of this country. Also told is the story of Prudence Crandall of Canterbury who defied established practices to teach black children to read and write.

Chockfull of games, puzzles and activities, A Brightly Colored Past makes history accessible to young minds. A maze game, for example, teaches children about the Underground Railroad. Kids have to find their way to freedom without stumbling into the hands of the slave owner or slave catcher. A hidden-word puzzle re-enforces the lesson that few slaves could keep their African first names; most had them changed by their owners.

“To teach children history you have to relate things from kids’ everyday lives to the lives of people in the past,” says former Historical Society Director Di Longley, who researched and wrote the workbook. “Previously, we had few signposts for African-American kids that pointed them towards their past. But as with all maps, the benefit is for all travelers in the community. The African-American history of Middletown is everyone’s history.”