9-12 Nebraska

Anna: One Woman’s Quest for Freedom

In November of 1815, an enslaved woman known only as Anna jumped out of a third floor window in Washington DC in what was assumed to be a suicide attempt. Presumed dead, abolitionists used her story to expose the harsh realities of slavery and advocate for better treatment of slaves. In 2015, the Oh Say Can You See research project uncovered an 1828 petition for freedom from an Ann Williams for herself and three children. This woman was the same “Anna” who had leapt from the window, still alive but severely injured from her fall, a contrast to the widely held belief that she had died in the fall. In 1832, a jury ruled in her favor, granting Ann and her three children freedom from master George Williams. Ann and her children went on to live free in Washington, subsisting on the weekly $1.50 that Ann’s still enslaved husband was able to provide for his family. This inquiry and the compelling question seeks to address the autonomy that enslaved African Americans had, and the question of what freedom meant to Anna.


Compelling Question:

What did freedom mean for Anna?

Staging the Question:

Students view an image of Anna leaping from a third-floor window and draw inferences and make predictions about the image, drawing on background knowledge and previous understanding.

Supporting Question What were the pivotal moments in Anna's life?

Formative Task Complete a storyboard of six pivotal moments in Ann's life that you think most contributed to her personal growth.

Sources Source A: Film: Anna: One Woman’s Quest for Freedom in Early Washington, D.C.
Source B: "Her Story: From Anna to Ann Williams"


Supporting Question What do the pivotal moments in Anna’s life tell us about the ways in which she maintained her autonomy?

Formative Task Working from the six pivotal moments on the storyboards, rank how much personal autonomy or freedom Ann Williams had in each moment from least to most autonomy.

Sources Source A: "A Portraiture of Domestic Slavery in the United States" by Jesse Torrey


Supporting Question What were the results of Anna’s petition for freedom and how did that affect her life going forward?

Formative Task Write a narrative, expository, or persuasive piece explaining the story.

Sources Source A: Ann Williams case summary from "O Say Can You See"
Source B: Excerpts from "Slavery and the Domestic Slave-Trade in the United States" (1836) by Ethan Allen Andrews

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Construct an argument with evidence in response to the question, "What did freedom mean for Anna?”
Extension: Utilizing a graphic organizer, identify what social, political, and legal resources Ann Williams used to navigate from enslavement to freedom. As part of your organizer, include how she utilized each.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: How should we remember Ann Williams? What parts of her life should we highlight if we want to understand the experiences of enslaved people in the United States?
Assess: Determine which parts of Ann Williams' life received either too much or not enough attention in the film "Anna."
Act: Based on your new understanding of Ann Williams’ life and the experience of slavery, use your storyboard to create a presentation (animation or persuasive speech) that emphasizes the events and choices you think best represent our remembrance of Ann Williams.