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Slavery and the Making of AmericaPicture of slave women cultivating a village garden in Central Africa, Courtesy of the University of Virginia Library
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

K-12 Learning
Intro Historical Fiction Primary Sources Lesson Plans Virtual Museum Credits
Lesson Plans
Elementary Middle School High School
Elementary Lesson Plan 1
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
Introductory Activity:
1) Tell your students that you would like them to imagine a situation, and that you would like them to react to the hypothetical situation as honestly as possible. Tell your students that the principal of your school has recently given you a large chunk of money that has to be spent for the "improvement of school morale" at your students' grade level. Tell you students that you have decided on every Friday afternoon, school will end two hours earlier, there will be an all-you-can eat pizza and soda party, and teachers will be barred from assigning weekend homework. Tell your students that you have been preparing a notice about this new policy that will be handed out to everyone in their grade level. Ask your students how they would feel about this situation, and if they think it would improve school morale.

2) Next, tell your students that when you really thought about it, you decided that their class really needs to concentrate on keeping their grades up, so it would probably not be advisable for them to miss two hours of school each week. After careful consideration, you have decided that all of the other students in their grade level will get early dismissal, unlimited pizza and soda on Fridays, and no weekend homework, but their class will be forced to stay in class and focus on their work, as well as complete weekend homework. Ask your students how they feel about this situation now. How does your decision make them feel? Ask your students if this would change their opinion of you as a teacher. Why?

3) Explain to your students that you have made your decision based on your concern for them as an educator. Your primary job is to teach them, and despite what appears to be favoritism, you have their interests at heart. Ask your students for classroom-appropriate words they would use to describe your decisions and behavior. How will their morale be affected? If they have not already used the term, ask your students if they would consider your decision to be hypocritical. Why? Ask your students if an effective leader can make contradictory decisions and still remain an effective leader. Can they think of any examples? Tell your students that in this lesson, you will be examining one leader's controversial-and contradictory--actions and decisions.

4) Explain to your students that you would like them to complete some observation and writing based on a video clip. Insert SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 2 "Liberty in the Air," into your VCR. TURN OFF the television's audio. As they watch the video segment, ask them to think of words to describe the two boys featured in it. START the video, at approximately 9 minutes, when you see the image of two boys running through a field rolling a hoop. PAUSE the video, at approximately 10 minutes, when you see an African-American boy's hands combing a wig. Check for comprehension, and ask your students for their descriptive words. Write students' descriptive words on your chalkboard or whiteboard. Ask your students when they think this video clip is supposed to be taking place. Ask your students what they think the relationship is between the two boys. Do they have any guesses on who the two boys might be?

5) REWIND the video to the beginning of the clip. Explain to your students that they will now watch the same clip again with sound. TURN ON the television's audio. As the students watch the clip ask them to determine who the two boys are, and what their relationship is. PLAY the video. PAUSE the video, at approximately 10.5 minutes, when you see Jupiter's hands pouring powder on a wig, and you hear historian Jennifer Morgan say, "is going to grow up to be his owner, is going to grow up to be his master." Check for comprehension, and ask your students the following:
  • Who they think the two boys are, and what their relationship is?
    Answer: The video portrays President Thomas Jefferson as a child, and a slave named Jupiter. Thomas Jefferson's family owned Jupiter.

  • Where Thomas Jefferson and Jupiter grew up?
    Answer: In the Piedmont region of Virginia.

  • When do they think Thomas Jefferson was a young boy?
    Answer: Student answers will vary; guide your students to realize that Jefferson was a child in the mid 1700s.

  • Do they remember how many slaves Jefferson's family had during his childhood?
    Answer: Sixty.
6) As the students watch the next video segment ask them to determine what conditions slaves faced on the Jefferson family's plantation. PLAY the video from the previous pause point. PAUSE the video, at approximately 11.5 minutes, when you see Jupiter standing at the window, and you hear historian Jennifer Morgan say, "being whipped or being raped."
  • Check for comprehension, and ask your students what conditions slaves faced on the Jefferson family's plantation.
    Answer: Slaves faced endless work-from sun-up to sundown and beyond, plus physical punishments, torturous devices, whippings, and rape.
7) FAST FORWARD the video until, at approximately 15 minutes, you see Thomas Jefferson and a woman sitting in a garden, and you hear a harp. As they watch the video clip ask them to think of reasons why the bonds of affection and family between slaves could be a weapon used by slave owners. PLAY the video. PAUSE the video, at approximately 17.5 minutes, when you see a woman standing in a road watching a wagon drive away, and you hear a male voice say, " ... when you go to bed at night."
  • Check for comprehension, and ask your students how slave owners could use bonds of affection and family among slaves as a weapon.
    Answer: Slave owners could arbitrarily decide to sell off slave family members. They used the bonds of affection among slaves as a way to control them and keep them obedient.
8) REWIND the video to just prior to the first clip, at approximately 8 minutes, where you see a reenactment of a slave shucking corn, and your hear Morgan Freeman say, "100 years after the first Africans arrived, most colonies were heavily dependent upon on slave labor." As they prepare to view the video ask them to determine why slavery was, as one historian calls it, "a goose that laid the golden egg." PLAY the video. PAUSE when you see Mt. Vernon (a large white house with a red roof), at approximately 9 minutes, and you hear historian Peter Wood say, " ... to see the wealth that flowed."
  • Check for comprehension, and ask your students why slavery was described as "a goose that laid the golden egg."
    Answer: Slavery produced vast amounts of wealth for slave owners, who had a labor force they owned, and which perpetuated itself through the birth of new slaves.
9) Ask your students to review the list of words they used to describe Jupiter and Thomas Jefferson in the first video clip. Now that they have additional information about the two boys, how would they change the list? Are there any words or terms that they would want to add? Why? Ask your students what they think Thomas Jefferson's opinion of slavery was. Why?

10) Tell your students that before you investigate primary source evidence of Jefferson's opinions on slavery, they will need to learn more about his life and accomplishments. Divide your students into two groups. Ask one group to log on to the Thomas Jefferson biographical sketch at
http://ap.grolier.com/article?assetid=atb050b06
&templatename=/article/article.html
. Ask the second group to log on to the Timeline of Jefferson's Life at
http://www.monticello.org/jefferson/timeline.html. If you do not have access to computers prepare the Web pages as a handout for your students. Ask your students to create a list of what they believe to be Thomas Jefferson's five greatest accomplishments. Give your students 10 minutes or so to complete this task, then check for comprehension. Ask your students what they believe Jefferson's greatest accomplishments were.

Student answers should include some or all of the following:
  • Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence
  • served as Governor of Virginia
  • first US Secretary of State
  • Vice President
  • United States President.
  • founded the University of Virginia
  • made the Louisiana Purchase
  • supervised the Lewis and Clark expedition
  • designed and built a large plantation called Monticello.
11) Ask your students if they think Thomas Jefferson was a significant figure in American history. Ask your students if they gathered any additional information about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery from the Web sites.

NOTE: The group that examined the timeline should mention that Jefferson owned a significant number of slaves -- at one point he inherited 135. The timeline also mentions that Jefferson manumitted, or set free, a few slaves. The other Web site does not mention that Jefferson was a slave owner. Again, ask your students how they think Jefferson felt about slavery, and why.

Learning Activity:
1) Remind your students that one of Jefferson's most important contributions to American society was the Declaration of Independence. Ask your students to log on to the "Declaration of Independence" site at http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/index.htm. If you do not have access to computers prepare the Web pages as a handout for your students. Ask them to listen to the first two paragraphs of the Declaration, and decide whether or not it reveals any information about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery. Select a student to read the first two paragraphs of the Declaration aloud. Check for comprehension, and ask your students the following questions:
  • Do the first two paragraphs reveal any information about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery?
    Answer: Student answers will vary; but it seems that Jefferson would be against slavery. Point out that Jefferson writes "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

  • Do they think it would be contradictory or hypocritical for the writer of these two paragraphs to be a slave owner? Why?

  • Does the Declaration make any specifications about race or sex?
    Answer: It doesn't.

  • Based on the Declaration, do they have any additional information about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery?
    Answer: Not really.
2) Tell your students that they will have to complete a more thorough investigation of primary source materials in order to more clearly understand Jefferson's views on slavery. Distribute the A WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT to your students. Ask your students to log on to the "Sale of Monticello Notice" at http://www.pbs.org/jefferson/
archives/documents/ih195824.htm
. If you do not have access to computers prepare the Web pages as a handout for your students. Ask them to examine the document and its transcript, identify what it is and determine what it reveals about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery. Students should also complete Part 1 of the WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT. Allow your students 5-10 minutes to complete this task. Check for student comprehension, and ask your students what the document is.

NOTE: The document is a notice of a sale at Jefferson's plantation Monticello. When Jefferson died, his family was deeply in debt, and all of his possessions were sold. These possessions included 130 slaves. The annotation reveals that five slaves were freed in Jefferson's will, and that many of the slave families at Monticello were separated and sold.

3) Check for comprehension, and ask your students what the document reveals about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery. Ask the following questions:
  • Was Jefferson a slave owner when he died?
    Answer: Yes.

  • Did Jefferson free his slaves when he died?
    Answer: A few, but most were sold.

  • Were these slaves being permitted to pursue "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?
    Answer: No.

  • Do they think that Jefferson supported slavery based on this document?
    Answer: Student answers will vary. Point out to your students that Jefferson could have freed ALL of his slaves when he died. Why do they think he didn't?

  • Does it seem that Jefferson supported slavery based on this document?
4) If you have chosen to print out and copy "Mr. Jefferson's Servants" by Captain Edmund Bacon, distribute it to your students. If not, ask your students to log on to the "Mr. Jefferson's Servants" Web site at
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/
shows/jefferson/slaves/bacon.html
. Explain to your students that this document is based on an interview with a former overseer at Monticello. Ask them to read the article and determine what it reveals about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery. Students should also complete Part 2 of the A WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT, and cite specific examples from the text to support their opinions. Give your students 15 minutes or so to complete this task.

5) Check for comprehension, and ask your students the following questions:
  • What does this document reveal about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery.
    Answer: Student answers will vary, but could include that the overseer says that Jefferson was "very kind and indulgent to his servants," "he would not allow them to be overworked," he "could not bear to have a servant whipped," he let some slaves have "pocket money," and he asked the overseer to "take no control" of his female house servants while he was off being President. Importantly, the overseer thinks Jefferson would have freed "all of them, if his affairs had not been so much involved." The overseer reports that "no servants ever had a kinder master," that "he did not like slavery," and that "he thought it was a bad system."

  • Why do they think Jefferson kept so many slaves for so long, and allowed them to be sold off after his death, if he was so against slavery?
    Answer: Student answers will vary, but the overseer alludes to economic reasons.)

  • Do they think Jefferson was hypocritical or contradictory?

  • Point out to your students that Bacon's article concludes with the sentence, "I have heard him [Jefferson] prophesy that we should have just such trouble with it as we are having now." Ask your students when Bacon made these recollections? And what was "the trouble" at that time?
    Answer: Bacon made the recollections in the 1860s and "the trouble" was The Civil War.

6) Explain to your students that in 1787, Jefferson wrote a book called "Notes on the State of Virginia," in which he provided further information about his attitudes towards slavery. Tell your students that they will be examining some excerpts from this book, and warn them that it is written in 18th century language and style. Divide your class into two groups. Ask one group to log on to "Notes on the State of Virginia, Query IV" at http://www.pbs.org/jefferson/archives/
documents/frame_ih198172.htm
. Ask this group to click on the icon for page 239. Ask the second group to log on to the "Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII" at http://www.pbs.org/jefferson/
archives/documents/ih198149.htm
. Ask this group to click on the icon for page 272. If you do not have access to computers prepare the Web pages as a handout for your students. Ask your students to read the excerpts and determine what they reveal about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery and race. Students should also complete Part 3 of the A WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT. Again, these texts are written in 18th century style with which your students may be unfamiliar so you will want to circulate around your classroom to help students out. Give your students 10 minutes or so to complete this task.

7) Check for student comprehension, and ask your students what "Notes on the State of Virginia" reveals about Thomas Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery and race.
  • Ask your students if Thomas Jefferson supported slavery.
    Answer: He did not like the system and feared for its future.)

  • Ask your students if, by today's standards, Thomas Jefferson was racist.
NOTE: In Query IV, page 239, Jefferson reveals that he feels blacks are inferior to whites, that this inferiority is an obstacle to their freedom, and that if they are freed, they should be removed from the country and go elsewhere. In Query VXIII, page 272, Jefferson reveals that he fears that God will take revenge on slave owners, that slaves will rise up against their masters, and that slavery is ultimately doomed.

8) Tell your students that they will be examining one last document to clarify Jefferson's views on slavery. Explain to your students that they will be examining an excerpt from a letter Jefferson wrote in 1824. Ask your students to log on to the Digital History: Letter of Thomas Jefferson to Lydia Sigourney Web site at http://www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/documents/
documents_p2.cfm?doc=399
. If you do not have access to computers prepare the Web pages as a handout for your students. Ask them to determine what the letter reveals about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery. Students should also complete Part 4 of the A WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT. Give your students 5-10 minutes to complete this task. Check for comprehension, and ask your students the following questions:
  • What does the letter reveal about Jefferson's attitudes towards slavery?
    Answer: Jefferson thinks that slavery is "deplorable," but he does not know how the country should proceed. He thinks it will be solved by later generations of Americans.

  • What does Jefferson mean when he says "we have the wolf by the ear."
    Answer: Jefferson thinks that continuing slavery would be dangerous and that eliminating it would be dangerous as well.

  • Was Jefferson for or against slavery?
9) Ask your students for words that could be used to describe Jefferson's attitude towards slavery. Did Jefferson make contradictory decisions? Was he an effective leader? Could he be considered hypocritical on the subject of slavery? Did he make important contributions to American society? Did he have racist views and attitudes?

Culminating Activity/Assessment:
1) Ask your students to once again log on to the "Declaration of Independence" site at http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/
document/index.htm
. If you do not have access to computers prepare the Web pages as a handout for your students. Considering what they have just learned, ask your students if the opening two paragraphs accurately reflect Thomas Jefferson's views on slavery and race. Ask your students if they think the Declaration now applies to more people and groups than when Jefferson wrote it.

2) Ask your students to create two new versions of the first sentence of the second paragraph of the Declaration in Part 5 of their WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT. The first version should be rewritten to accurately reflect Jefferson's views on race and slavery. The second version should be their own version, and reflect America's contemporary society and beliefs.

3) Collect the A WOLF BY THE EAR HANDOUT for assessment purposes.

Cross-Curricular Extensions
SCIENCE
Investigate the controversy surrounding Jefferson's relationship with slave Sally Hemings, and how scientists used DNA evidence to make discoveries about history. Consider consulting the PBS Web site for the FRONTLINE episode "Jefferson's Blood" at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/
frontline/shows/jefferson/
.

LANGUAGE ARTS
Examine how language has changed over the course of American history. Consider utilizing the "Pray, Why Speakest Thou Thusly" lesson plan at http://www.pbs.org/wnet/colonialhouse/
teachers/plan4a.html
.

Write a journal entry from the perspective of Jupiter, Jefferson's slave examined in the Introductory Activity of this lesson. Have your students read the essay on Jupiter from the SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA Web site.

SOCIAL STUDIES
Complete online research to discover how Jefferson revised and changed the Declaration of Independence through multiple drafts, and his reasons for doing so.

Community Connections
  • Invite a Human Resources professional from a local company to your classroom to discuss the laws and mandates which protect Americans in the workplace, and how these protections are implemented.

  • Research the history of slavery in your community, and/or your area's historical relationship with American Indians.

  • Research controversial or divisive issues in your community, and interview members of community action groups that are interested in addressing these issues.
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