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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
High School Lesson Plan 1:
Slavery by the Numbers Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
Introductory Activity
(two class periods)

1. The following online activity will involve searching for statistical information relating to episodes in the history of slavery depicted in SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA. Before your students begin the activity, have them locate the following places using an atlas or maps of the United States:
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Wilmington, North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Berkshire County, Massachusetts
  • Boston, Massachusetts
  • Cornwall, New York
2. Students should be familiar with people and events depicted in the video SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA before taking part in this online activity. The Census Quest questions relate to specific episodes depicted in the four-part series, including these topics:
  • Thomas Jefferson
  • Elizabeth Freeman (Mum Bett)
  • David Walker
  • Denmark Vesey
  • Harriet Jacobs
3. Distribute the CENSUS QUEST STUDENT ORGANIZER to your students. Walk your students through the first few questions to familiarize them with the Historical Census Data Browser interface.

Learning Activity:

1. Explain to your students that they will use the United States Historical Census Data Browser at, 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.


1. 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."

2. 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.

3. 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."

4. 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."

5. 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."


NOTE: David Walker's story is discussed 38 minutes into Episode 2 of SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, "Freedom is in the Air."

6. 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."

Culminating Activity/Assessment:
(one class period and an at-home activity)

1. 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.

2. 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.

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