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The Domestic Slave Trade
In Our Backyards Lesson Plan: Slave Trading and Small Towns
The narrative The Domestic Slave Trade and lesson plan "In Our Backyards" counter the common misconception that all slaves were auctioned in large seaports and river towns. In conjunction with reading the narrative, students will examine maps to identify the small communities visited by slave traders in Mississippi and Alabama in the mid-1840s and to calculate the distance traveled by slave coffles.
Grade Levels:Middle school, grades 6-8
For use with:The Domestic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:Geography
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

  • Ways 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 the enslaved; 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 the enslaved 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).
Time required
One 50-minute class period
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  • Poll students with the question: "When you think of a slave auction, where do you visualize it being held, in large ports and cities or the countryside?
  • Provide a copy of the narrative, The Domestic Slave Trade, and ask students to focus on the section "Exporters and Importers," in particular the final paragraph about slave speculator T. W. Burton.
  • Explain to students that, when Thomas C. Weatherly was "following the counties round attending the courts," it meant that he was going to the town that served as the county seat, where the courthouse was located. Ask if they know in which town their county courthouse is located; if they don't, inform them.
  • Calculate the distance from the school to the county seat.
  • Review the term, "coffle," and remind students that coffles marched from location to location.
  • Procedures

    1. Divide students into teams of two-three people and provide each team with maps of Alabama and Mississippi from the 1840s.
    2. Direct students to study the maps and answer the following questions.

      1. Look at the map of Alabama and Georgia and locate Lowndes County. How many towns and villages are recorded on the map?
      2. Using the scale in the upper right corner of the map and following the road system whenever possible, measure the distances between each town, and add them up to calculate the total number of miles that would have to be traveled on foot by a slave coffle traveling with speculator T. W. Burton.
      3. Calculate the distance from the point in Lowndes County that is the farthest to the county seat at Haynesville.
      4. Look at a local map and calculate the distance from your school to the following locations (naming the specific business):

        1. Main Post Office
        2. Grocery Store
        3. Clothing Store or Mall
        4. Restaurant or Fast Food Shop
        5. Hospital or Clinic
      5. Compare the distances within Lowndes County to Haynesville and within your community to the five locations in the previous question.
      6. Look at the map of Mississippi. How many county courthouse seats are recorded on the map?
      7. Using the scale in the lower left corner of the map and following the road system whenever possible, measure the distances between each county seat.
      8. Total the distances between the county seats to calculate the total number of miles that would have to be traveled on foot by Thomas Weatherly's slave coffle.
      9. Was the slave trade restricted to large cities and towns along the oceans and rivers?
      10. What do you think the impact of all this marching was on the slaves in the coffles?
    3. Ask students to write a journal entry responding to the prompt:

      1. Slave traders were marketing men, women, and children in every village and county seat. What effect do you think this had on slave owners, enslaved people, and farm or craft workers who did not use slave labor?

    Teachers may elect to ask students to share their prompt responses orally. Evaluate responses on a five-point scale (which may be weighted) or five letter-grade rubric as follows:

    Grading Elements Points/Grade
    No response 0/F
    Response is not linked to prompt, shows little insight, offers few ideas, and has many technical problems. 1/D
    Response is not clearly linked to prompt, shows some insight, provides a vague plan, and has some technical problem with writing. 2/C
    Response references prompt, shows some insight, provides a general plan, and demonstrates most technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation). 3/B
    Response references prompt, shows originality and insight, provides specifics, and demonstrates technical elements of good writing (spelling, grammar, punctuation) 4/A

    Related Works
    Interdisciplinary Links

    • Art: Students can create a visual representation of slave traders and their coffles in two-dimensions (e.g. drawings, paintings, or murals) or three-dimensions (e.g. sculptures or dioramas).
    • Government: Ask students to investigate the type of property transfers that modern county courthouses record. They should look to see what records are kept at their courthouse, the dates of the collection, and the terms of access to the collection. Why would buyers like the idea of making purchases at the county seat? What types of people were entitled to participate in court proceedings and voting in the 1840s?
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