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Runaway Journeys
Forest Joe Lesson Plan: Outlaw or Hero?
In the narrative Runaway Journeys Forest Joe was one of many fugitive slaves who became leader of a band that chose to live in the wild forests of the South. This description sounds similar to the legend of Robin Hood. Yet, the legend of Robin Hood has gained much more fame and notoriety than the legend of Forest Joe. Students will research Forest Joe, and compare the spread of his legend to that of similar legends from different ethnic groups.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 8-12
For use with:Runaway Journeys
Concentration Area:History
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The following standards have been taken from the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel) standards.
Students will understand

  • How the industrial revolution, increasing immigration, the rapid expansion of slavery and the westward movement changed American lives and led to Regional territories.
  • How slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g., how the cotton gin and the opening of new lands in the South and West led to increased demands for slaves; differences in the lives of plantation owners, poor free black and white families, and slaves; methods of passive and active resistance to slavery; escaped slaves and the Underground Railroad).
  • Different economic, cultural, and social characteristics of slavery after 1800 (e.g., the influence of the Haitian Revolution and the ending of the Atlantic slave trade, how slaves forged their own culture in the face of oppression, the role of the plantation system in shaping slaveholders and the enslaved, the experiences of escaped slaves).
  • How slavery influenced economic and social elements of southern society (e.g., how slavery hindered the emergence of capitalist institutions and values, the influence of slavery on the development of the middle class, the influence of slave revolts on the lives of slaves and freed slaves).
  • The causes of the Civil War.
  • Slavery prior to the Civil War (e.g., the importance of slavery as a principal cause of the Civil War, the growing influence of abolitionists, children's roles and family life under slavery).
Time required
Three class periods
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  • Ask these questions for discussion: Students have been brought up with the legend of Robin Hood. He stole from the rich to give to the poor and fought against an unjust society. Was Robin Hood a hero or a villain? When does it become acceptable to break the law?
  • Procedures

    1. Introduction lesson

      1. After reading the section on "Maroon Communities," in which students learn about Forest Joe, lead the students in a discussion of other legendary heroes, such as Robin Hood and Joaquín Murrieta, whose legends contain eerily similar facts to those within Forest Joe's story.
      2. Have students read about Robin Hood and Joaquín Murrieta. Then, have them use a Venn diagram to compare and contrast either one to Forest Joe.
    2. Primary lesson

      1. Have students choose to read one of the poems about Robin Hood from 1820. This is contemporary to Forest Joe's time period. The poems romanticize the role of Robin Hood, who took to the woods and pillaged the upper class to help himself and the lower class. Then, talk about the fact that Forest Joe was hunted down and eventually killed for doing the same thing. What does this say about the point of view of people of the time?
      2. Once students have learned about Forest Joe and the other legends, have students do a search on each one. Ask them to keep track of the number of web sites each legend brings up.
      3. Ask students to analyze the statistics. Using these statistics as a base, have them write what they think the statistics tell about minority heroes in the modern media, then compare this to what they learned about the media in the 1820s. Have students consider the following questions:

        1. Has the way ethnic heroes have been portrayed changed over time? Why or why not?
        2. Why do you think we have never heard of Forest Joe?
        3. What other ethnic legends do you know?
        4. Why do you think these heroes have been overlooked in the past and now?
    3. Follow-up Lesson

      1. As a follow-up, students may choose a legend from another ethnic group and write a fictional account of an adventure along the same lines as those available about Robin Hood. Accounts could be stories, poems, or plays.
    Interdisciplinary Links

  • "The Sad Shepherd: or, A Tale of Robin Hood" by Ben Johnson (1641):
  • "Fact and Fiction in the Mother Lode: The Legend of Joaquín Murieta:"
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