Slavery in North Carolina: Lesson Plan
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Slavery Across North Carolina

Often our impression of slavery is one of slaves toiling in the fields of a large plantation, but slaves in North Carolina had diverse experiences. Although some North Carolina slaves did work on large plantations, many more worked on small farms. Others labored as skilled artisans, performed domestic work, worked in the shipping industry near the coast, or were able to "hire out" their time and work for themselves. In this lesson, students will read excerpts from slave narratives written by North Carolinians from different parts of the state. Taking what they’ve learned from the narratives, students will then create a map illustrating the differing types of labor associated with each region.

Grade 8—Social Studies

Classroom Time Needed: 2-3 hours

Learning Outcomes
Curriculum Alignment
Materials and Resources
Additional Web Sites

Learning Outcomes
  • Students recognize the variety of slave experiences
  • Students understand how slavery developed in each region of North Carolina
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Curriculum Alignment

North Carolina Standard Course of Study—Grade 8 Social Studies

  • Goal 3: The learner will identify key events and evaluate the impact of reform and expansion in North Carolina during the first half of the 19th century
    • Objective 3.04 - Describe the development of the institution of slavery in the State and nation, and assess its impact on the economic, social, and political conditions.

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Materials and Resources
  • Materials
    • North Carolina state map for each student
    • North Carolina atlas or online map
    • art supplies to illustrate map (pencils, pens, markers, magazines, scissors, and glue for collage, etc)
    • print and online sources for research about slavery in North Carolina
    • slave narrative excerpts:
      • James Curry, Person County—middle to end of 5th paragraph, beginning "My mother was cook in the house..." , 7th paragraph, beginning "After I was sixteen..."
        Western North Carolina
      • Fannie Dorum, Franklin—section titled "Work" (This narrative is part of the Library of Congress collection of slave narratives recorded in the 1930s for the Federal Writers' Project. Click on "Browse by Keyword" and use search terms "Fannie Dorum", then click on the result "Church holds old age contest" to view the narrative.)

  • Technology Resources
    • Internet access for reading slave narrative excerpts
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  • Students should have basic background knowledge of slavery in North Carolina.
  • Teachers should read through the slave narrative excerpts in preparation for the lesson.
  • Note: The slave narrative excerpts have been selected for grade-level appropriateness, and avoid the most shocking themes of the slave narratives, such as extreme violence and sexual abuse. Teachers may want to make copies of the excerpts for students, rather than having them read the narratives online. If students choose to read further in the online slave narratives, teachers may wish to lead an additional discussion on some of the difficult themes they may encounter, such as violence, sexual abuse, and use of racist language, before students read the narratives.

  1. As a class, brainstorm images that come to mind when you think of slavery. Record these ideas in a place where you can refer to them again later. If the class comes up with images such as cotton fields, plantations, etc., ask where they have seen or heard these images.
  2. Explain that while many slaves did work on large plantations, slaves in North Carolina did a variety of jobs. Depending on where they lived, slaves may have worked on small farms, performed domestic labor, been skilled artisans, worked in the boating and sailing industry, or even become entrepreneurs. Tell students that they will be reading parts of slave narratives, or autobiographies written by former slaves to share their experiences, from African Americans who lived in North Carolina.
  3. Have students read the excerpts from the slave narratives, taking notes as they read. Then, ask students to plot the hometown or home county of each narrative’s author on their maps.
  4. Have students illustrate the different types of labor described by the slave narrative authors in the area of the map where slaves may have performed that type of labor. Students may need to do additional research about slavery in different regions of the state to complete their maps; possible sources are identified in Web Sites and Supplemental Information.
  5. As a group, look back at the list created in step one. How do students’ initial impressions of slavery compare to those recorded on their maps?

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Students should have correctly plotted the settings of the slave narratives (Raleigh, Wilmington, Person County, New Bern, Franklin, Camden County) as well as correctly illustrated the different types of slave labor, demonstrating an understanding of the diversity of slaves’ experiences in North Carolina.

Alternative Assessment

Rather than creating a map, students may write choose a region of the state and write a brief slave narrative as a slave who lived in that area. Students should demonstrate understanding of the regional differences of slavery by writing about the type of labor a slave may have performed in that region.

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Web Sites

Supplemental Information

These texts can be used by teachers or students for further research about slavery across the state:
  • Cecelski, D. (2001). The Waterman's Song : Slavery and Freedom in Maritime North Carolina. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.
  • Crow, J. (1992). A History of African Americans in North Carolina. Raleigh: NC Department of Cultural Resources.
  • Inscoe, J. (1989). Mountain masters, Slavery and the Sectional Crisis in Western North Carolina. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.

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