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Jamestown: Planting the Seeds of Tobacco and the Ideology of Race
developed by Joan Brodsky Schur

Grade levels: 10th grade through sophomore year of college
Subjects: History, American Studies
Time Allotment: Variable depending upon which of eight activities you choose to implement.
Description: Activities are sequenced to lead up to the heart of the lesson, activities five and seven, in which students study primary sources from Jamestown, Virginia. Allot three classes plus outside work time to implement the primary source work. Other activities are geared towards teaching key concepts about race, learning about Jamestown, and discussing Episode 2 of RACE - The Power of an Illusion.

Joan Brodsky Schur is Social Studies Curriculum Consultant to the Village Community School in New York City where she has taught Social Studies and English for over 20 years. She is co-author of In A New Land: An Anthology of Immigrant Literature and creator of the American Letters series published by Interact.


The focus of this lesson is American racial ideology as it began to evolve in late 17th century Jamestown and Virginia. It aims to help students question their own assumptions about what race is and is not. Episode One of RACE demonstrates that race as a biological category is an illusion. How then, did this illusion take hold in American history as an ideology, or systematic body of concepts through which people view themselves, one another, and their world? That is the question posed in Episode Two of RACE on which this lesson is based.

The lesson counters the image typically portrayed in textbooks - that with the mere arrival of Africans in Jamestown in 1619, race-based slavery, apparently inevitable, began. The introduction of tobacco growing for export saved the fortunes of a floundering Virginia Company, but tobacco could not be cultivated without a large labor force. Early Jamestown was a complex and hierarchical society, with servants (whether European, American Indian or African) often making common cause with one another against the planter class. As such the servant class was not a reliable source of labor; indeed it had the potential to threaten the hegemony of the ruling class.

As indentured European servants proved unruly and rebellious, immigration sporadic, and American Indians took recourse in flight and war - the planters turned to African slaves who had become available at this time in larger numbers and cheaper prices. African slavery, however, is not the same as racial slavery, not at first, anyway. As George Fredrickson points out in Black People in White Minds: "In order to comprehend what occurred, it is necessary to confront the vexed question of the relationship between slavery and racism and to take account of the chicken-and-egg debate among historians over which came first in the southern colonies, slavery or racial prejudice." Were Africans enslaved because of a pre-existing belief that they were inferior as signified by their skin color? Or were they enslaved for economic motives and then viewed as inferior because of their low status, and later, to justify their enslavement?

In the lesson, students use the judicial court cases and statutes of Jamestown to answer this question and other controversial quandaries about the development of race-based slavery in early America. These records tell a remarkable story as judges and legislators, faced with a variety of thorny issues, begin to enact the slave codes. The human dramas that gave rise to these cases are not the ones with which students are familiar. Rather they portray a brief time when Europeans, Indians and Africans worked together, traded, mated, and rebelled together. Only after a century of legal negotiations did the laws emerge by which the planter class ensured itself a reliable form of labor through institutionalizing race-based slavery. Discussion questions for Episode 2 of RACE help students understand the implications of this development throughout American history.

The lesson begins by asking students to give their own definitions of "race" and then to compare these to those offered by historians in Episode 2 of RACE. Several interactive and engaging activities establish some of the causes for the labor crisis in Virginia, and the oppressive conditions under which European indentured servants worked.

The heart of the lesson is the study of selected statutes and judicial records available on-line at Virtual Jamestown . Students study these in groups, with each group assigned to look at the record in order to answer one of six focus questions. The class reconvenes to discuss answers to all six focus questions. Suggested essay and research topics on a variety of controversial issues are offered at the end of the lesson under "Extensions."


  • To help students understand that race is not a thing but an ideology or story that developed over time.
  • To trace the seeds of this ideology in the evolution of African slavery in early Virginia.
  • To understand that the planter class created and then manipulated racial categories to its economic advantage.
  • To identify the decisive legal decisions in the steps towards creating race-based slavery in early Jamestown.
  • To learn to use primary sources to make inferences, form hypotheses, and write research papers.


  • Episode Two of the documentary RACE: The Power of an Illusion
  • RACE companion Web site (Race Timeline and Resources section)
  • Access to other online Web sites

ACTIVITY 1: Establishing the Concept that Race Is an Idea

Begin this lesson by asking each student to write a short definition of "race," as best he or she can. Tell students that they are not required to share their definitions with the class, but they are required to keep them as a point of reference throughout the lesson.

To spur further discussion, list a dozen or so overlapping populations on the board, one at a time: e.g. Asians, Hispanics, Caucasians, Jews, Negroes, Italians, Greeks, Chinese, Pygmies, Native Americans, English, Arabs, Poles, Nubians, Iraqis, Afghans, Melanesians, Mayan, Ainu, Han Chinese, Dravidians, Hindus, Moslems, Africans, etc. As you list each population, ask the class to vote whether they are or are not a race, and tally the results.

Now show the opening sequences of Episode Two of RACE. Stop at approximately 5:56 with the image of slaves laboring in the fields accompanied to music.

Initiate class discussion by writing the following phrases from the video on the board:

  • "Race is an idea that evolves over time…"
  • "Moments in America's past reveal how this idea took hold… "
  • "Race was never just a matter of how you look; it's about how people assign meaning to how you look."
  • "America created a story, a story of race."

Invite the class to compare their definitions of "race" to those given by the historians in the video. Pose the following two questions:

  • What is different about your definition of "race" and those given by the historians interviewed in the program?
  • Who in the class thinks they came closest to approximating the definitions offered in the video, and what about their definition makes it similar?

Throughout the discussion, emphasize that the historians stress that race is merely an idea, albeit an idea that became very powerful.

Now write on the board: "All men are created equal."

Pose the following set of questions:

  • Why is the episode entitled "The Story We Tell"?
  • According to the video, what necessitated the creation of the story of race in American history?
  • How can a nation proclaim "All men are created equal" and also sanction slavery? Why was the idea of race needed to reconcile these two principles?
  • While it is ironic that Jefferson wrote both the Declaration of Independence, and speculated in his Notes on Virginia that Africans might be mentally and physically inferior to Europeans, why is it also logical that he is author of the ideas expressed in both documents?

ACTIVITY 2: What Difference Makes a Difference?

Tell the class that we all have many ways of describing and categorizing ourselves, and of being seen and categorized by others.

Now ask the class to list all the different types of people who inhabited or colonized the eastern seaboard of North America in the first half of the 17th century such as:

Native peoples

Then ask the class to subdivide each of these categories into at least four other sub-categories (e.g. by tribe, religion, occupation, social class, etc.)

Now photocopy or project on an overhead the following statements about race in colonial America:

  • According to historian Robin D. G. Kelley, "Africans came to the New World not as Black people, not as Negroes. They didn't see themselves that way. They saw themselves according to their own sort of ethnic identities. The same was true of Europeans who viewed themselves as Portuguese, or English, or Irish." (Interview for RACE - The Power of an Illusion)

  • Larry Adelman, the executive producer of RACE, adds: "It may be hard for us to comprehend today that the American Indians didn't see themselves as Indians. Nor did the English see themselves as white. Neither saw themselves as a race. The peoples of the Americas were divided into separate and distinct nations - hundreds of them. Amerindian nations such as the Algonquians differentiated themselves from the Iroquois or Cherokee by religion, language and customs just as Protestant, English-speaking Britain distinguished itself from Catholic, Spanish-speaking Spain."

  • According to historian Gary Nash, when Jamestown colonist John Rolfe took his new bride, Pocahontas (who had converted to Christianity), back to London in 1616, they caused an uproar among the lords and ladies and dukes and earls of the Court of King James. Not because Rolfe, an Englishman, had married an Indian, but because Pochahontas, a princess, had married a commoner. (Forbidden Love: The Secret History of Mixed Race America. Edge Books. New York: 1999)

  • Historian Karen Ordahl Kupperman points out that, as for physical distinctions, native Americans were most struck by the English colonists' beards and their smell. The colonists wore the same clothes for weeks, were covered with lice, and rarely bathed. The English didn't describe the Indians' color as red in the early days, but rather as tanned or tawny. (Indians and English: Facing Off in North America. Cornell: 2000)

  • According to historian Ira Berlin, "In early American society, people distinguish themselves by religion; they distinguish themselves by nationality; they distinguish themselves by family. And however they distinguish themselves, they arrange themselves in a hierarchical order in which a few are on top, and many are on the bottom… Hierarchy is providential; it's a way that God ordered the world." (Interview for RACE - The Power of an Illusion)

After students have read these quotes, ask them to list all the various ways people categorized themselves and others in 17th century America. Ask students to explore what differences might have been the differences that mattered most. Skin color was just one marker. Was it significant, incidental, or not even worth noting? Ask students to explain their answers. They should note that "white," "Indian," and "Black" were not yet key concepts of self-identity.

To help students understand this concept better, distribute a number of different chess pieces to the class. Put students into groups of three to five and try to make sure that each group has within it one member who knows at least the rudiments of chess playing. To each group distribute one chess piece such that if you distribute a black king to one group you also distribute a white king to another.

Ask students to complete the following form about their chess pieces:


Chess Pieces: What Difference Makes a Difference?

  • Draw the shape of your chess piece, without naming it.

  • Now name the chess piece. What characteristics of the piece enabled you to name it? What are the most salient features of the piece?

  • In two or three sentences only, describe the moves this piece can make.

  • In two or three sentences only, describe the advantages this piece offers to the player using it.

  • In relative terms to other chess pieces, how powerful is this chess piece?

  • How else would you describe this chess piece?

Ask pairs who described the same types of chess pieces to stand up and read out loud their answers to the questions. Now ask the class:

  • What features of your chess piece enabled you to recognize the role it plays in the game of chess?

  • How important was the color of the chess piece, relative to its role and power in the game of chess?

Because Africans, English, and American Indians were organized into very different cultures from one another, their societies did not have exactly corresponding roles, as do the teams of chess pieces. Nonetheless, use the analogy to elucidate how, for example, Captain John Smith and Powhattan viewed one another not through the prism of skin color (which was incidental), but by the much more important markers of their status in their respective communities, rivals for land, or trading partners.

Extend this analogy to all the peoples living in the colony of Jamestown in the early 17th century. What were the differences that made a difference?

ACTIVITY 3: The Origins of Race?

Resume showing the video at approximately 5:56 and end at approximately 15:51.

Ask students to focus on the following questions as they watch the video:

  • What categories were more important than skin color in defining status in early colonial America?
  • Why did the planter class turn to African slavery?
  • What advantages did the enslavement of Africans provide the planter class?
  • What advantages did the enslavement of Africans provide the indentured European class?
  • What role did the law play in creating the permanent enslavement of Africans?
  • As the idea of race evolved, what presumptions were made about American Indians?
  • What do Europeans seeking land have to gain by turning Indians (who were previously hunters, gatherers and/or part time farmers) into more "civilized" full-time planters?
  • If race is an ideology, are there any inherent or biological reasons that explain why Europeans became the enslavers and Africans the enslaved?
  • To profit from their venture in North America, the European settlers needed both land and the labor to work the land. Captured Indian land provided the first, and captured African labor would eventually supply the latter. According to what rules or principles would Europeans classify Indian-European "half-breeds," and European-African "mulattos"? How much "Indian blood" did you need to remain Indian, how little to be deemed white? How much "black blood" was required to remain Black? How could these designations be manipulated such as to create both a greater source of labor, and diminished resistance to the acquisition of native land?

ACTIVITY 4: Jamestown, the Need for Labor

This activity will help students understand the planters' dire need for a source of labor in early Jamestown. It would be best to have students deduce the facts from the documents-based activities below. But as students re-discover the story, you will want to review it with them, helping them to understand that it was the search for a viable and cheap source of labor that led to indentured servitude.

The Virginia Company was a profit-making venture. It originally sent out colonists who were primarily gentleman or craftsmen who expected not to farm, but to get rich finding gold and other precious metals, as had the Spanish colonizers in Central and South America. Within six months half the colonists were dead from a variety of causes. It was John Rolfe who found the key to the colony's financial success: tobacco seeds that produced mild smoke. By 1618 the colony was exporting nearly 50,000 pounds of tobacco. But growing tobacco was extremely labor-intensive. In the search for a viable labor source, the planters at first relied on European indentured servants.

To begin the activity, put students in small groups. Print out the sheet below and distribute one copy to each group. Tell each group that they are the founders of a new colony in Virginia. They must select a total of 70 colonists from the occupations listed below to be members of their colony. The goal is to choose those people with the skills most likely to help the colony survive. Then ask students to compare their choices to those made by the Virginia Company.

Go to Virtual Jamestown:

And use the Census at the site:


Colonists for Jamestown

Directions: Choose 70 colonists distributed among the following occupations to settle a colony in North America. Explain the reasons for your choices in the last column.

council members    
pipe makers    


Debriefing and follow-up questions:

  • Compare your list of colonists to the "original" list of settlers. Which colony would be most likely to survive, yours or that of the original settlers. Why?
  • Gentlemen were upper class men who did not do manual labor. Members of the Council were also gentlemen. What is the ratio of gentlemen to all other settlers in the original settlement, and by the time of the first and second supply? What are the likely consequences of this imbalance for the colony? To compare who was imported into the colony in the original, first, and second supply go to the Virtual Jamestown site at: or directly to
  • Without laborers Jamestown could not survive. What sources of labor could the planters turn to? Ask students what they know about available sources of European, Indian and African laborers at this early time in the colony's history.

ACTIVITY 5: The Growing Labor Crisis: Using Primary Sources about Indentured Servitude

The need for indentured servants grew as the Jamestown colony became dependent on the labor-intensive planting of tobacco. Indentured servitude was one solution to the need for labor.

This activity makes use of the following documents and secondary sources about indentured servants in Virginia:

Divide the class into eight groups and give each group either one of the five Virginia statutes, one of the two Indenture Contracts, or the Stratford Hall background essay to read. (These can be viewed online or downloaded and photocopied.)

Distribute one of the forms below to every member of each group. Ask each group, insofar as possible, to answer the questions below. Explain that no one group will be able to answer all of them.


Indentured Servitude in Virginia

Group members:

Title of your document(s):

Directions: Use only the source material your group has been given to answer as many of the following questions as possible. It is not expected that you will be able to answer all of them.

  • Who were the indentured servants? For what reason(s) had they come to America? What social class(es) had they occupied in Great Britain?
  • What was the indentured servant bound by law to provide the master?
  • What was the master or mistress bound by law to provide the indentured servant?
  • What rights of indentured servants were curtailed by colonial laws? In what ways did these laws create a second-class citizenry?
  • What status would the indentured servant occupy upon completion of the contract? What would the master or mistress supply the servant with upon completion of the indentures?
  • From the point of view of the masters, what problems arose under the system of indentured servitude? Was indentured servitude a reliable form of labor? Why or why not?
  • What evidence do these documents provide that the laws of Jamestown were beginning to differentiate between European, Indian and African labor?
  • What evidence do these documents provide that the servant class, whether European, African or Indian, found common ground with each other in their struggles against an oppressive labor system? What types of laws were passed to prevent the union of restless workers from all groups?
  • From the point of view of the indentured, was the indenture contract a satisfactory insurance of fair treatment in America, and did it offer a reasonable means to eventual success?
  • In your opinion, who was best served by the system of indenture, the master or the servant?
  • To make the colony profitable the planters needed an ever-growing source of labor. What were potential points of conflict between the servants and their masters?

Concluding discussion:

  • Tell the class that they will now need to answer all the questions on the "Indentured Servitude in Virginia" sheet, based on what each group has learned from the document(s) they studied. Ask each group to summarize the contents of their document(s) for the class, and to explain what they have learned about indentured servitude from them. When the process is finished, focus whole group discussion on the last three questions listed above.

  • To stir up debate you may wish to divide your class into a planter class (left side of the room) and indentured class (right side of the room). Ask each side to air their grievances about the indentured servant system. What are the potential points of conflict between these two social classes?

  • Ask students to define the status of an indentured servant in Jamestown. Was this person a temporary slave? A full citizen? A person with the legal standing of a woman or child? What were the distinctions between servant and slave?

  • Invite the class to make predictions about how issues of labor and social stratification will be resolved in colonial Virginia.

  • Ask students to re-interpret Bacon's rebellion of 1676 based on key concepts in this lesson. As the indentured class began to survive beyond the years of their indentures, they began to demand their "freedom dues" of land, corn and a gun. The planter class already occupied the coastal areas, thus the new freedmen were relegated to the backcountry of Virginia where it was hard to eke out a life. The freedmen class coveted both the prerogatives of the ruling class and the land of American Indians, and now they were armed. As Virginia Governor Berkeley complained in a moment of self-pity: "How miserable that man is that Governes a People where six parts in seven are Poore, Endebted, Discontented, and Armed."

    Note that Bacon's rebels - freedman, servants and slaves - burned Jamestown to the ground and forced the governor to flee.

    How did Bacon's war on Indians turn into a class war against the planters? How did the ruling class learn to divide and conquer the underclass that Bacon led (which included both indentured servants and African slaves) by privileging a new class of people: "whites"? For more on this interpretation of Bacon's Rebellion see Edmund S. Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom and Theodore W. Allen's The Invention of the White Race: Volume 2. See the RACE Web site Resources section for detailed bibliographical information.

ACTIVITY 6: Whom to Enslave?

Students have now seen some of the reasons why the Jamestown colony was in dire need of cheap labor, and why European indentured servants provided an unsatisfactory source of labor. To understand why the colony turned to African slaves, ask students to fill in the following chart, using what they have learned from watching the video, or from further research.

Jamestown was in need of laborers. An oppressed labor force would provide the cheapest source of labor. What were the advantages or disadvantages for the planter class in trying to enslave peoples in the following categories? Fill in the chart as best you can:

Available Numbers & Longevity
Skills needed for planting & other labors
Ability to run away & escape
Sources of legal, political or military recourse
Africans brought as slaves        
Indians captured in war        
Indentured Europeans        

What conclusions can the class reach after discussing their charts?

When discussing slavery remind students that unlike today, slavery didn't need to be justified back then. Slavery was widespread, and taken for granted throughout most of recorded human history. Historian Barbara Fields has observed that "There was no need to justify slavery in a society in which everybody stands in the relationship of inherited subordination to someone else - servant to master, serf to nobleman, vassal to overlord, overlord to kings, and king to King of kings."

ACTIVITY 7: How the Regulation of Labor Became the Regulation of Race
See Morgan's American Slavery, American Freedom for more on this concept


For this activity students will need to use the Virtual Jamestown site at

Once at the site click on "Public Records" and go to "Laws." Scroll down and go to "K, Laws on Slavery".and "O, The Practise of Slavery."

You may be able to access these directly at: and

"Laws on Slavery" is 28 pages long in its entirety and "The Practise of Slavery" is 15 pages long. Students will only need to read the following excerpts from these documents. (The document titles listed below are taken directly from the Virtual Jamestown site.) They follow the order of the documents listed at each site but omit many of the documents to make the activities listed below more manageable. Students can access these documents directly from the web. (Teachers can exercise the option of copying these documents in Word, deleting the documents not being used in the lesson, and photocopying the rest for students to use.)


From "Laws on Slavery"

  • September 17, 1630: The punishment of Hugh Davis

  • January 1639/40-ACT X: An act creating a legal distinction between white and black men

  • March 1655/6-ACT I: An act creating a distinction between Africans and Native Americans

  • March 1660/1-ACT XXII: An act punishing English servants running away with Negroes

  • March 1661/2-ACT CII: An act discouraging white indentured servants from running away with enslaved blacks

  • March 1661/2-ACT CV: An act prohibiting trading among servants and slaves

  • March 1661/2-ACT CXXXVIII: An act stating that Native American and English servants were to serve their masters the same length of time

  • March 1661/2: A ruling providing freedom for a Native American slave

  • December 1662-ACT XII: An act applying the status of the mother on children

  • September 1663-ACT XVIII: An act prohibiting servants from traveling without a license

  • September 1667-ACT III: An act declaring that baptism did not alter the status of slaves

  • September 1668-ACT VII: An act declaring that Negro women were taxable

  • October 1669-ACT I: An act legalizing the punishment and killing of slaves

  • October 1670-ACT XII: An act creating further additional distinction between African Americans and Native Americans

  • September 1672-ACT VIII: An act to suppress the rebellious activities of slaves

  • June 1676-ACT I: An act declaring Indians captured in war slaves for life
    [Bacon's Rebellion]

  • June 1680-ACT X: An act attempting to prevent slave revolts

  • November 1682-ACT I: An act repealing a former law making Indians and others free

  • April 1691-ACT XVI: An act attempting to suppress runaway slave communities
    [The term "white" appears]

  • April 1692-ACT III: An act stating the procedure for a slave brought to trial for a capital offense

  • August 1701-ACT II: An act that offered a reward for the apprehension of a notorious runaway slave

  • October 1705-CHAP. IV: An act that contains the first definition of a mulatto in Virginia's laws

  • October 1705-CHAP. XXII: An act declaring the Negro, Mulatto, and Indian slaves real estate

  • October 1705-CHAP. XXIV: An act for settling the Militia

  • October 1705-CHAP. XLIX: An act that provides a definition of who would become a slave upon entering Virginia

From "The Practise of Slavery"

  • July 9, 1640-Punishment for Runaway Servants

  • October 17, 1640-Punishment for a White Man and a Black Woman Who Commited Fornication

  • March 31, 1641-Suit of John Graweere

  • 1672-Attempts to Restrict the Movement of Slaves

  • 1678-Andrew James Secures His Freedom

  • October 24, 1687-Governor Effingham Reveals a Planned Insurrection by Slaves

  • November 1687-Proclamation from Governor Effingham

  • June 1699-A Difference Between Slaves Imported from Africa and Those Born in Virginia

  • September 1705-The Need for a Definition of Who Was a Mulatto

Follow-up activities and assignments:

In the activity on indentured servants, groups of students were given different documents to look at, but all tried to answer the same set of questions. In this activity, all students study the same documents, but each group does so in order to answer a different focus question.

Divide the class into five groups such that each group is given only one of the focus questions below. Give all groups the selection of documents from "The Laws of Slavery," and "The Practise of Slavery." (Alternatively, create 10 or more groups, with each focus question being answered by two or more groups.)

Afterwards ask groups to write papers that answer their assigned focus question and/or ask them to present their conclusions to the class.

Focus questions:

  • Do the documents demonstrate that in early Jamestown there was significant social interaction among Indians, Europeans and Africans? What were the different types of social interactions that occurred (e.g. economic, sexual, resistance to oppression)? What was its significance, and what was the reaction of judicial and legislative powers in response to them?
  • What did the European planter class have to gain by creating racial distinctions via the law? What did the European indentured class have to gain? (Review the regulations on indentured servitude used earlier in this lesson before trying to answer the second question.)
  • The laws and judicial decisions of 17th century Jamestown are based on a variety of rationalizations used to justify the temporary or permanent enslavement of numerous groups. How do these rationalizations change over time? Why do you think they change?
  • Was racial categorization and the legal restrictions it was designed to enforce resisted by those who were oppressed by it? What different forms of resistance can we find in the legal records? What strategies, if any, seem to have met with at least temporary success?
  • Many of the laws and judicial cases regulate sexual behavior according to evolving categories of "race." They prohibit or sanction marriage, and define the "race" and status (free or enslaved) of ensuing offspring. What is the purpose of these evolving definitions and why were they deemed necessary? Who gained status, privilege and wealth by the adoption of these regulations? Who lost it? (Be sure to consider the role of women as well as men in your answer.)

Debriefing Discussion:

We usually look at the story of colonial America as a series of steps toward freedom. As you help students synthesize what they have learned about early Virginia, help them to see a different story: that American democracy did not become possible for Americans of European descent until they had enslaved Americans of African descent and justified that action by deeming them a separate and inferior race.

  • What do students feel were the most important steps towards creating a slave system in Virginia where all the slaves shared physical characteristics? Begin by reviewing the first years of the colony when it is evident that people from all three continents worked together, mated, ran away together, and so forth. Set up a timeline in the room beginning in 1607 and ending in 1705. Ask students to put on it the 10 most important events that "led to race." Students should consult the, documents in Virtual Jamestown, their textbooks and the Timeline and Resources section in the RACE series companion Web site (search using key words "origins of race," "slavery", "African American," "Native American," and "white").

  • Ask students to compare their understanding of the origins of race-based slavery as depicted by most textbooks, to that conveyed by the legal record of early Jamestown.

  • To help students better understand the "steps toward race" you may want to develop with them further the chess analogy begun in Activity 2. Ask students to suppose that all the lowly pawns are black, and all the other pieces are white, save for an occasional black knight.

    Then laws are issued which limit the freedom of the black pawns - they are slaves. Because all slaves happen to be black, color becomes associated with supremacy or inferiority. White chess pieces, even those which might have once been pawns themselves, would thus feel they have more to gain by seeing themselves as white than they do in making common cause with their former black counterparts against the aristocracy. The story the white pieces tell themselves to justify this situation is not that the white pieces are greedy and want to control the labor of the pawns, but that the black pieces are inherently inferior and unfit for freedom. Color, rather than shape, has become the difference that makes the difference

    Ask students what would happen if you introduced gray pieces into this game. Are they classified as white or black? Or do we make new rules that define their powers? What would be in the interest of the white aristocracy? Would they wish to define all gray pieces as black so as to maximize the numbers of the enslaved? Why would it now be imperative to define the status of gray?

    Discuss with students the uses and misuses of this analogy. What about it seems most apt? What aspects of the imagined chess analogy do students think may be faulty?

ACTIVITY 8: The Consequences of Creating an Ideology of Race: Viewing the Concluding Sections of Episode 2 of RACE.

Resume showing Episode 2 at approximately 16:21 through to the end of the video. Before viewing this segment ask students how they think the creation of "race" as an ideology would impact American history beyond the end of slavery and the Civil War. After viewing the rest of the film, discuss the following:

  • Who is the "common man" in American history? What is the relationship between his growing rights and freedoms and the denigration of other groups?
  • Indians were at one point thought to be "civilizable"? Why was this line of thinking abandoned?
  • As American nationalism took root, who was deemed eligible for U.S. citizenship, and on what basis?
  • How was the scientific community influenced by Jefferson's hypothesis that Blacks were inherently mentally and physically inferior to whites?
  • How did the creation of whiteness divide the working classes, not only in colonial Jamestown, but later in American history?
  • What was the relationship between theories of the "white man's burden" and U.S. imperialist ventures?
  • Had slavery been justified on an economic basis as James Horton suggests instead of a racial one, how might American history after the Civil War have been different?
  • What purposes did the creation of "whiteness" serve?

EXTENSIONS: Topics for Essays and Further Research

  • In an essay choose one side in the debate over which came first, slavery or racial prejudice. Support your point of view with evidence from documentary sources from Jamestown.

    Related quotes:
    "In order to comprehend what occurred, it is necessary to confront the vexed question of the relationship between slavery and racism and to take account of the chicken-and-egg debate among historians over which came first in the southern colonies, slavery or racial prejudice." (George Fredrickson, Black People in White Minds, p.193)

    "One school of thought has argued that it was the debased status of the slave, combined with the physical differences in the population of masters and slaves, that generated the negative attitudes of racism and subsequent social discrimination… The implication of this position, not always apparent to scholars, was that without slavery race and racism might not have occurred. Another school of thought holds that a kind of racial antagonism was present from the beginning of the English contact with Africans. And the institutionalization of racial discrimination, including the separation of Blacks and whites both spatially and socially, preceded the establishment of slavery. The arguments on both sides are compelling…" (Audrey Smedley, Race in North America, p.96)

  • Defend or oppose the following statement about the inevitability of African slavery in the American colonies. Research this question and support your viewpoint with documentary evidence.

    "Throughout this period [17th century America] there was no reason to predict that the African-Atlantic trade would ultimately supplant the white 'vagabonds,' 'destitutes,' and convicts with an unlimited cargo of Black labor." (Smedley, p.103)

  • Compare ideas of racial difference in the U.S. to that of a Central American, South American, or Caribbean country or region. Then support or oppose the following statement:

    "American racial ideology is as original an invention of the Founders as is the United States itself." (Barbara J. Fields, "Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America, New Left Review, 1990)

  • Support or defend Edmund S. Morgan's theory that Bacon's Rebellion was critical in spurring laws defining "whiteness" as privilege. Weigh Bacon's Rebellion against other factors (such as available numbers of indentured servants, tobacco prices, and so forth) in the creation of African slavery in colonial Jamestown.

    "…Slavery alone did not solve the problem of white servants making common cause with their Black counterparts. The potential for class antagonism between whites remained. 'The answer to the problem, obvious if unspoken and only gradually recognized, was racism,' Morgan contended, 'to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous Blacks by a screen of racial contempt.'" From "Americans on the James" a book review by Kathleen Brown. For the full text go to or see Morgan in the RACE Web site Resources section.

  • Historian Barbara Fields has written that African slavery "was fateful but not pre-ordained." What does she mean? Why do you agree or disagree?

Other topics for research:

  • Compare the laws regarding the development of race-based slavery in Colonial Virginia to those of Maryland or the Carolinas. How similar were these processes and what do they reveal?

  • Discuss the role of African and European women in the development of race-based slavery in terms of their status and the reproductive roles to which they were assigned.

  • Research slavery as it existed in other parts of the world in the 17th century. What rules governed slavery according to Christianity and Islam? What rules governed the enslavement of prisoners taken in war? What legal rights did slaves lose or retain? How were they visually identified as slaves (e.g. branding)? Why do you think slavery was an accepted fact of life in the 17th century?


For other relevant online sources for these essays, visit the web sites below. Or search in the RACE Resources section using the keywords "slavery," "origins of race," "African American," "Native American," and "white advantage."

Barbara J. Fields, "Ideology and Race in American History" at

"Bacons Rebellion" from the PBS series Africans in America at

The website for the PBS program Jefferson's Blood

"Who Built Virginia? Servants and Slaves as Seen Through Runaway Advertisements" at Virtual Jamestown


Students can be assessed for their participation in whole-class discussions. Did they participate often? Did their comments reflect their ability to use new concepts?

Students can be asked to assess their own roles in the small-group work analyzing documents. Did they read the material carefully? Did they make inferences and connect ideas in order to answer their focus questions? Did they participate in discussions and listen to one another?

Students can be assessed on their research papers. They should reflect an understanding of the key concepts developed in this lesson - especially that race is an ideology, rather than a thing, i.e. biology.

Students can be given an in-class essay or exam to write. Ask students to defend the definitions of race offered by historians at the opening of Episode 2 of RACE by citing specific evidence from the history of Jamestown.

"Race is an idea that evolves over time…"
"Moments in America's past reveal how this idea took hold…


From Mid-Continent Research For Learning and Education at

Historical Understanding Level IV Grade 9-12

Standard 1: Understands continuity and change related to a particular development or theme.

Standard 2: Analyzes the influences specific ideas and beliefs had on a period of history and specifies how events might have been different in the absence of those ideas and beliefs.

United States History Era 2 Level IV Grade 9-12

Standard 3: Understands how…property ownership, religion and legal status affected political rights.

Standard 4: Understands elements of slavery in the colonies in the 17th century.


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