Lesson PlansBack to lesson plans archive February 11, 2011
Slavery by the Numbers
By Thomas Thurston, Yale University
U.S. History, Social Studies, Geography
Two to three class periods
9 – 12
Students will be able to: Draw inferences from statistical information. Connect episodes in the history of slavery with larger demographic trends.
The U.S. Constitution requires that a national census be taken every ten years; U.S. census takers have done so since 1790. Historians have found census data to be an extremely important resource for identifying population shifts and trends. The online United States Historical Census Data Browser allows the user to select specific census categories and allows users to find data at the county level, when that data is available. In this online activity, students will locate statistical information related to the PBS Documentary SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA using census data from the United States Historical Census Data Browser.
Prior to teaching this lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom, or upload all links to an online bookmarking utility such as www.portaportal.com. Preview all of the Web sites listed below and video clips used in the lesson to make certain that they are appropriate for your students.
Print out and copy the student organizers and document sheet.
Using the Historical Census Browser is fairly straightforward. Categories and variables vary from year to year. Students must be made aware that multiple selections can be made from variables listed in the data categories. (Information on the Web site’s homepage explains how to select more than one category, depending upon the type of browser you are using.) Once variables have been selected, click the “Browse [Census Year] Data” at the bottom of the page. The Web site will then display the data by state. To obtain census information for counties within a given state, select the state and click the “View Counties” button at the bottom of the page.
After each Census Quest question, a note is provided in the lesson plan explaining the associated segment from the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA documentary. We recommend that you complete the Census Quest questions your students will be working with, so that you know the answers to these questions and you will be able to anticipate difficulties your students might have using this database.
- Explain to your students that they will use the United States Historical Census Data Browser to answer the questions on the CENSUS QUEST STUDENT ORGANIZER. The Census Browser will explain how multiple selections can be made from the variables listed in the data categories. Once variables have been selected, click the “Browse [Census Year] Data” at the bottom of the page. The Web site will then display the data by state. To obtain census information for counties within a particular state, select the state and click the “View Counties” button at the bottom of the page. The Census categories employed by the Census vary from year to year.
- To help to guide your students in their quest, the Census categories that they will need to find are given in CAPITAL LETTERS.INFORMATION FOR THE CENSUS QUEST STUDENT ORGANIZER
- In Episode 1 we learn that among the original colonies, North and South Carolina were unusual in that from their beginning slavery was considered the main economic activity. According to the 1790 CENSUS, how many SLAVES were in SOUTH CAROLINA in 1790? Which COUNTY had the most slaves. How many slave holders had holdings of 100 or more slaves?
- NOTE: The origins of slavery in the Carolinas is treated 34 minutes into Episode 1 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, “The Download Spiral.”
- In 1790, when the first US Census was conducted, which four states had the greatest number of slaves? How many slaves did each of these for states have? In 1860, on the eve of the Civil War, which four states had the greatest number of slaves? How many slaves did each of these for states have?
- NOTE: The growth of slavery in America and its social and economic consequences is a principle subject of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. You may wish to have students view the segment on Cotton and its role in the economic development of the United States, which begins approximately 20 minutes into Episode 3 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, “Seeds of Destruction,” and lasts about 18 minutes.
- In 1800 Thomas Jefferson was elected president by a very close margin. Some people have argued that if it were not for the “three-fifths clause” in the U.S. Constitution, Jefferson may not have won that election. The three-fifths clause considered slaves, who could not vote, to be counted as part of a state’s total population (by multiplying the number of slaves in a state by 3/5). This gave slave-holding states a special advantage in the electoral college, as the number of slaves a state held counted as part of the overall population of the state, which increased the number of electoral votes that state controlled.Using the 1790 Census, which set the number of votes each state would have in the electoral college for the 1800 election, find out how many SLAVES lived in Thomas Jefferson’s home state of VIRGINIA? If you multiply the number of SLAVES by 3/5, how much did that increase the population of VIRGINIA, for the purposes of representation.
- NOTE: The story of Thomas Jefferson and Jupiter, who served as Jefferson’s personal slave, begins approximately 5 minutes into Episode 2 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, “Freedom is in the Air.”
- In 1781, Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mum Bett, successfully sued for her freedom. This court case paved the way for the total emancipation of Massachusetts slaves a few years later. According to the 1790 CENSUS, how many “ALL OTHER FREE PERSONS” (African Americans) lived in Massachusetts in 1790, the first census taken after statewide emancipation? Mum Bett lived in Sheffeld, Massachusetts, which is in Berkshire County. According to the 1790 Census, how many “ALL OTHER FREE PERSONS” lived in Berkshire County in 1790? Boston, the largest city in Massachusetts, is in Suffolk County. How many “ALL OTHER FREE PERSONS” lived in Suffolk County in 1790?
- NOTE: Mum Bet’s story begins approximately 18 minutes into Episode 2 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, “Freedom is in the Air.”
- David Walker was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1796 or 1797. Since his mother was a free black, David Walker was also free. He moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where he was influenced by Denmark Vesey, and left there in the early 1820s to live in Boston Massachusetts, where he wrote his famous pamphlet, “David Walker’s Appeal.” According to the 1820 CENSUS, how many “TOTAL FREE COLORED PERSONS” lived in CHARLESTON COUNTY, SOUTH CAROLINA? How many “TOTAL FREE COLORED PERSONS” lived in SUFFOLK COUNTY, MASSACHUSETTS, where Boston is located?
- NOTE: David Walker’s story is discussed 38 minutes into Episode 2 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, “Freedom is in the Air.”
- Harriet Jacobs published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl in 1861, while she was living in Cornwall, New York. Cornwall is in Orange County. According to the 1860 CENSUS, how many AGGREGATE. FREE COLORED PERSONS lived in ORANGE COUNTY, NEW YORK?
- NOTE: Harriet Jacob’s story is treated in the beginning of Episode 3 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, “Seeds of Destruction.“
(one class period and an at-home activity)
- After the students have searched the Historical Census Browser for their answers, spend time in class going over their answers. In addition to ensuring that the students have discovered the correct information, discuss with your students how this data might be used to support a specific argument regarding the history of slavery.
- Have students create their own census-based historical question related to slavery in America, using the Historical Census Browser. (For example, students might develop a census-based question that compares the literacy rates among white people in slave states and free states.)
- Ask students to hand in their questions. Select the best for a classroom-created “Census Quest.” Questions should be judged on their creative use of available online census materials as well as their relevance to the topic. You may elect to post these student-developed questions on your school or classroom Web site. You may wish to use some of the student-created questions for a future Census Quest.
The Materials You Need
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- PDF – Census Quest Student Organizer
- United States Historical Census Data Browser – Hosted by the Geospatial and Statistical Data Center at the Library of the University of Virginia, the United States Historical Census Data Browser contains selected detailed county- and state-level data for the United States for the years 1790 to 1970.
- Online biographical resource about Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett).
- Online biographical resource about David Walker
- Online biographical resource about Harriett Jacobs
Additional Resources for Teachers
Common Core Standards
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Relevant National Standards:
- Standard 2 – The student thinks chronologically. Therefore, the student is able to utilize visual, mathematical, and quantitative data presented in charts, tables, pie and bar graphs, flow charts, Venn diagrams, and other graphic organizers to clarify, illustrate, or elaborate upon information presented in the historical narrative.
- Standard 4 – The student conducts historical research. Therefore, the student is able to obtain historical data from a variety of sources, including: library and museum collections, historic sites, historical photos, journals, diaries, eyewitness accounts, newspapers, and the like; documentary films, oral testimony from living witnesses, censuses, tax records, city directories, statistical compilations, and economic indicators.
- Standard 2D – The student understands the rapid growth of “the peculiar institution” after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery.
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