Kyra Sedgwick and Kevin Bacon

Lesson Plan – Slavery in the North

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Grades: 8-11

TIME ALLOTMENT: Two 45-minute class periods


The 2012 PBS series Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the tapestry of American history through the stories of celebrity guests. In Episode 4, Gates explores the family histories of actors Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick and examines the complex history of slavery in the Northern US.

This hands-on, media-enhanced lesson explores the extent to which slavery existed in the North. In the Introductory Activity, students learn about slavery in the North prior to the Civil War, and explore the attitudes of Quakers toward slavery. In the Learning Activities, students explore census data from 1790 through 1860 to find out where slavery existed during that time period. Students explore the story of Elizabeth “Mumbet” Freeman, a woman who successfully fought for her freedom from slavery in Massachusetts, with the help of Kyra Sedgwick’s ancestor. Students explore the request President Lincoln made to the country to come together to heal after the Civil War and the ways in which Quakers, including Kevin Bacon’s ancestor, responded to that request. In the Culminating Activity, students conduct research about the presence and ultimate abolition of slavery in the Northern states.


After completing this lesson, students will be able to:

– Name Northern states where slavery existed.

– Describe the extent to which slavery existed in the North.

– Discuss the Quakers and their attitudes toward slavery and education.

– Describe the distribution of slaves throughout the US states and territories from 1790 to 1860.

– Explain who Mumbet was and how she attained her freedom.

– Discuss what Abraham Lincoln asked the nation to do in his 2nd Inaugural Address and how people responded to his request.

– Discuss one state’s history of slavery in detail, including information about when and how slavery was abolished in that state.

Social Studies; American History


National History Standards

Historical Thinking Standards for Grades 5-12

– Standard 1: Chronological Thinking: The student thinks chronologically. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Identify the temporal structure of a historical narrative or story: its beginning, middle, and end (the latter defined as the outcome of a particular beginning).

– Reconstruct patterns of historical succession and duration in which historical developments have unfolded, and apply them to explain historical continuity and change.

– Standard 2: Historical Comprehension: The student comprehends a variety of historical sources. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative.

– Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage by identifying who was involved, what happened, where it happened, what events led to these developments, and what consequences or outcomes followed.

– Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses and the purpose, perspective, or point of view from which it has been constructed.

– Appreciate historical perspectives–the ability (a) describing the past on its own terms, through the eyes and experiences of those who were there, as revealed through their literature, diaries, letters, debates, arts, artifacts, and the like; (b) considering the historical context in which the event unfolded–the values, outlook, options, and contingencies of that time and place; and (c) avoiding “present-mindedness,” judging the past solely in terms of present-day norms and values.

– Utilize visual and mathematical data presented in graphs, including 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 3: Historical Analysis and Interpretation: The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Compare and contrast differing sets of ideas, values, personalities, behaviors, and institutions by identifying likenesses and differences.

– Consider multiple perspectives of various peoples in the past by demonstrating their differing motives, beliefs, interests, hopes, and fears.

– Analyze cause-and-effect relationships bearing in mind multiple causation including (a) the importance of the individual in history; (b) the influence of ideas, human interests, and beliefs; and (c) the role of chance, the accidental and the irrational.

– Draw comparisons across eras and regions in order to define enduring issues as well as large-scale or long-term developments that transcend regional and temporal boundaries.

– Challenge arguments of historical inevitability by formulating examples of historical contingency, of how different choices could have led to different consequences.

– Hypothesize the influence of the past, including both the limitations and opportunities made possible by past decisions.

– Standard 4: Historical Research: The student conducts historical research. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, historical sites, art, architecture, and other records from the past.

– 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.

– Interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.

– Support interpretations with historical evidence in order to construct closely reasoned arguments rather than facile opinions.

– Standard 5: Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making: The student conducts historical research. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Identify issues and problems in the past and analyze the interests, values, perspectives, and points of view of those involved in the situation.

– Evaluate alternative courses of action, keeping in mind the information available at the time, in terms of ethical considerations, the interests of those affected by the decision, and the long- and short-term consequences of each.

– Formulate a position or course of action on an issue by identifying the nature of the problem, analyzing the underlying factors contributing to the problem, and choosing a plausible solution from a choice of carefully evaluated options.

– Evaluate the implementation of a decision by analyzing the interests it served; estimating the position, power, and priority of each player involved; assessing the ethical dimensions of the decision; and evaluating its costs and benefits from a variety of perspectives.


United States/ Era 3: Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)

– Standard 1b: The student understands the principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Explain the major ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence and their intellectual origins.

– Demonstrate the fundamental contradictions between the ideals expressed in the Declaration of Independence and the realities of chattel slavery.

– Draw upon the principles in the Declaration of Independence to construct a sound historical argument regarding whether it justified American independence.

– Explain how key principles in the Declaration of Independence grew in importance to become unifying ideas of American democracy.

United States/Era 4: Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

– Standard 2d: The student understands the rapid growth of “the peculiar institution” after 1800 and the varied experiences of African Americans under slavery. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Identify the various ways in which African Americans resisted the conditions of their enslavement and analyze the consequences of violent uprisings.

– Evaluate how enslaved African Americans used religion and family to create a viable culture and ameliorate the effects of slavery.

– Standard 4a: The student understands the abolitionist movement. Therefore, the student is able to:

– Analyze changing ideas about race and assess the reception of proslavery and antislavery ideologies in the North and South.

– Explain the fundamental beliefs of abolitionism and compare the antislavery positions of the “immediatists” and “gradualists” within the movement.

– Compare the positions of African American and white abolitionists on the issue of the African American’s place in society.



Finding Your Roots, Episode 4, selected segments.

Access the video segments for this lesson at the Video Segments Page.

Clip 1: “Slavery in the North”

A look at slavery in the North and the views and actions of Quakers, including Kevin Bacon’s ancestor, Samuel Atkinson.

Clip 2: “Mumbet”

An overview of the story of a slave named Mumbet, and the role Kyra Sedgwick’s ancestor played in helping secure her freedom.

Clip 3: “After Slavery”

A look at President Lincoln’s appeal to the nation to rebuild after the Civil War and the response to his request by Kevin Bacon’s ancestor Lydia Atkinson and other Quakers.


For the Introductory Activity:

This Far by Faith: African-American Spiritual Journeys

This companion website to the PBS series, This Far by Faith, explores the African American religious experience through the last three centuries. The site also contains a timeline which explores the religious beliefs of African Americans and others, and how those beliefs impacted their actions. The information about Quakers can be helpful for this lesson:

Quakers: From Slave Traders to Early Abolitionists

Quaker Activists, Achievements and Impending Revolutions

For Learning Activities 1 and 2:

100 Milestone Documents

This site features “100 milestone documents” compiled by the National Archives and Records Administration. This site contains images of the original documents, as well as transcripts of the documents. The following documents are used in this lesson:

President Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address (1865)

Declaration of Independence (1776)

Elizabeth Freeman

This website from the PBS series Revolution features information about Mumbet and her role in helping to bring about the end of slavery in Massachusetts. 

Mumbet/ Elizabeth Mumbet Freeman

This website provides information about Mumbet, the slave in Massachusetts, who successfully sought her freedom, as well as her legal team of Sedgwick and Reeve.

For the Culminating Activity:

African Americans and the End of Slavery in Massachusetts

This website provides a variety of information, including original manuscripts with information about African Americans in colonial Massachusetts and the end of slavery in that state.

Pennsylvania slavery by the numbers

This website provides details about slavery in Pennsylvania, Quakers’ views toward slavery, and the abolition of slavery in the state.


For the class:

– Computers with internet access for the viewing of President Lincoln’s 2nd Inaugural Address or one printout of the document for each student.

– Computer, projection screen, and speakers (for class viewing of online video clips)

“States of Slavery” Student Organizer Answer Key

For each student:

“States of Slavery” Chart

“States of Slavery” Student Organizer


Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to:

Preview all of the video segments used in the lesson. Prepare to watch them using your classroom’s Internet connection.

Bookmark all websites which you plan to use in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. Using a social bookmarking tool such as or diigo (or an online bookmarking utility such as portaportal) will allow you to organize all the links in a central location.

Print out one copy of the “States of Slavery” Chart and the “States of Slavery” Student Organizer for each student. Print out one copy of the “States of Slavery” Student Organizer Answer Key. (See the “materials” section above.)

Proceed to Lesson Activities.