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The Domestic Slave Trade
The Domestic Slave Trade Lesson Plan
This lesson is designed for students to learn more about the domestic slave trade. Students will investigate the true account of an enslaved person and journal on that person's life. Appropriate for middle school and high school students, the lesson's goal is to allow the student a well-rounded study of this forced migration.
Grade Levels:Middle and high school, grades 6-12
For use with:The Domestic Slave Trade
Concentration Area:History: U.S. Government
National Curriculum Standards met by this lesson
The standards for this lesson conform to those set by the Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McRel).
Students will understand

  • The ways slavery shaped social and economic life in the South after 1800 (e.g., ways 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).
Time required
Anywhere from two traditional class periods to two weeks, depending on depth and breadth of student research
Materials needed
Anticipatory Set

  1. Engage the class in a discussion of these questions:

    1. How far back can you trace your family's roots in America?
    2. How many locations are included in that record?
    3. What dictated the moves from one location to another?
    4. If the choice wasn't your ancestors' choice to make, what was it that dictated their movement from place to place?
  2. Then, ask students to write down the things that make them feel secure about living where they are right now: their home, their street, their community, their region of the U.S. Answers will be varied, but the idea is to have the students realize how identity and place are related. They will also bring out the idea that having their family members with them makes them feel secure.
  3. Have students share their written responses with the class.
  4. Then, end this set with the announcement, "Now imagine that everything you've written down has been taken away from you. Everything that has made you feel secure is gone. How do you feel?" Discuss students' thoughts as a class.

  1. Have the map of the migration on the overhead projector or on students' computer screens. (link to map of this migration)
  2. Hand out copies of the narrative; or, if students are online, they can read it on their screens. If the reading level of the class is low, you may opt to read and stop at intervals to check for understanding.
  3. Once the students have read through the narrative, have them start filling in any information that they can based on the following series of springboard questions:

    1. What dates, from beginning to end, frame this migration?
    2. Where is the point or where are the points of origin of the people?
    3. What was their existing circumstance in that location?
    4. Why did they leave?
    5. How many left?
    6. Where did they go?
    7. How were the destinations chosen for them, or were they arbitrary in nature?
    8. What event or circumstance ended this migration?
    9. What is the legacy today of this migration in both the points of origin and destination?
    10. How does this migration fit in with the other migrations (can only be done if studying a group of migrations)? Are there any connections between migrations?
  4. For any unanswered questions, direct students to other resources, such as the gateway, other areas of the site, and library resources.
  5. Once the students have a general overview of the domestic slave trade, have them research a personal history of a specific person's plight. Send them to the narratives presented on the site. They can also use the Library of Congress slave narratives collection at: Then, have them select one of the narratives that addresses the idea of migration of individuals who were bought and sold through the domestic slave trade.
  6. Once they've selected their person, and researched and read as much as possible on this person's life, instruct students to create a diary/journal of this person's feelings about changing owners, plantations, regions, as well as leaving family behind and being separated from loved ones. Much of the information will be in the narrative itself, but you also should push the students to delve deeper into the effects on the psyche that such displacement causes. Assign a specific number of entries required to fulfill the assignment, making sure students note the web address of the original slave narrative for your reference.
  7. Ask students to pick a title for their journal reflecting the emotions and feelings expressed within. Did the person long for freedom? Did he or she wish for death? How did the definition of "family" change as he or she was displaced and moved from location to location? What were the dynamic changes in how the enslaved viewed the slaveholders?

Evaluate the creative writing assignments on a 25-point scale (and multiply by four to convert to a 100-point scale or to letter grades) using the following rubric:

Grading Element and Total Possible Points Excellent Good Fair Not Satisfactory No Work
Written Assignment's Historical Research and Accuracy

10 Points
(10) Demonstrates:

-- Extensive research

-- Many details

-- No factual errors or anachronisms
(9-8) Demonstrates:

-- Complete research

-- Some details

-- No factual errors or anachronisms
(7-5) Shows:

-- Minimal research

-- Generalized information

-- Some errors
(4-1) Shows:

-- Little or no research

-- No new information

-- Many factual errors
Written Assignment's Technical Writing Skills

10 Points
(10) Shows excellent:

-- Compositional structure

-- Sentence structure and variety

-- Vocabulary use

-- Grammar, spelling, punctuation
(9-8) Shows good:

-- Compositional structure

-- Sentence structure and variety

-- Vocabulary use

-- Grammar, spelling, punctuation
(7-5) Shows adequate:

-- Compositional structure

-- Sentence structure and variety

-- Vocabulary use

-- Grammar, spelling, punctuation
(4-1) Shows inadequate:

-- Compositional structure

-- Sentence structure and variety

-- Vocabulary use

-- Grammar, spelling, punctuation
Composition'sFelicity of Style and Presentation

5 Points
(5) Composition:

-- Engages reader

-- Shows high originality

-- Shows empathy with historical figures

-- Is visually interesting (if applies)
(4) Is above average in:

-- Engaging reader

-- Demonstrating originality

-- Showing empathy with historical figures

-- Eliciting visual interest (if applies)
(3) Is adequate in:

-- Holding reader's interest

-- Demonstrating originality

-- Showing empathy with historical figures

-- Eliciting visual interest (if applies)
(2-1) Composition: Demonstrates attempt to fulfill assignment with little or no success (0)

Related Works

  • The Schomburg Center's Images of 19th Century African Americans includes an online digital collection of depictions of slavery at: Additional images are available at the Schomburg Center's online exhibition The African Presence in the Americas 1492-1992 at:
  • The Digital Classroom of the National Archives provides not only Federal documents, but also background information and lesson plans. Generic worksheets that may be adapted to a particular document are available for written documents, photographs, political cartoons, posters, maps, artifacts, sound recordings, and motion pictures. They can be accessed at:
  • The Library of Congress' American Memory Collection features over seven million online digital documents. It is a rich resource for a wide variety of documents about slavery and the African-American experience, including the online exhibit African-American Odyssey. American Memory's homepage is
  • Jackdaw Publication's Slavery in America kit includes a nice assortment of facsimiles, including a letter written by a slave, a bill of sale, and a petition to free a slave. To find a complete list of documents, go to:
Interdisciplinary Links

  • Language Arts: Students may wish to collaborate with the Social Studies, Art and/or Language Arts departments or teachers to mount the documents into a formal exhibit. Students will need to think about an introductory text for beginning of the exhibition, captions for each document in the display, and any other explanatory text or signage (directing visitors through the exhibit) that may be necessary. Students will be writing for the general public, so the text should be free of technical errors (i.e., spelling, grammar, punctuation, and capitalization errors), and the narrative should be clear, interesting, and informative. Students also will work with the Social Studies contact to confirm the text content's historical accuracy.
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