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Chronological Reasoning and Causation

History of Slavery in New York

  1. Load Advertisement of a Runaway, 1823 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Bill of Lading for Five Enslaved Individuals Loaded at Curacao for New Netherland, August 24, 1659 in Main Image Viewer
  3. Load Estate Inventory of Edward Pell, Oct. 23, 1787 in Main Image Viewer
  4. Load Estate Inventory of Edward Pell, Oct. 23, 1787 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Title/Overview: Slavery in New York.  

In this lesson, students source, interpret and corroborate evidence, and contextualize three primary sources: a letter-document written by a Dutch slave ship captain, a 1787 Westchester county estate-inventory from a deceased slave owner and an 1823 advertisement for a runaway slave. Students will investigate how enslaved Africans were viewed by slave owners and others at the time and how that impacted their attitudes and behavior towards those enslaved people. Students will also investigate how enslaved Africans resisted the institution of slavery.  Students will use the historical evidence from the three primary source documents and their prior knowledge to construct a written response by making two historical claims and supporting those claims with documented evidence. The students will also be given the opportunity to create their own fictional historical narrative on the specific reasons those enslaved ran away and where they went and the outcome of their tragic, sad lives; while staying faithful to the history—historical context. 

Goal: The sources in this lesson, Estate Records/Inventories, a published runaway slave advertisement, and a letter from a ship’s captain will have the power to shock students because of how human beings were dehumanized, categorized like property and merchandise or animals on a farm. How do crimes like this happen? Sadly, throughout history there have been times where an absence of compassion, sympathy and responsibility have led to horrific crimes committed against other human beings. Students will discover that a direct consequence of NOT seeing another person as a human being will or can result in a lack of sympathy for the victims as well and responsibility. Students will investigate how this played out with regards to the institution of slavery in America, specifically colonial New York and post colonial New York. One reason we study history is to learn from our mistakes in order to not repeat them. Many students will make personal connections with the enslaved people in the lesson. They’re very sad but powerful narratives. 

Objectives: Students will be able to write an evidence based claim paragraph by analyzing three primary sources about the institution of slavery in colonial and post colonial New York.

Investigative (Compelling) Questions:  How did slave owners and individuals view enslaved people from Africa and what impact did those attitudes have? How did enslaved Africans resisted the institution of slavery? 

Time Required: 1-2 class sessions.   

Recommended Grade Range: 11th grade high school and Middle School 7th Grade 

Subject: US History, Social Studies and ELA

NY STATE STANDARDS:  11th Grade 11.1 b:  A number of factors influenced colonial economic development, social structures,and labor systems, causing variation by region. 

  • Students will examine the impacts of geographic factors on patterns of settlement and the development of colonial economic systems.  

  • Students will examine the factors influencing variations in colonial social structures and labor systems.  

7th Grade: The changing status of Africans and African Americans under the Dutch and British – Enslaved Africans and the development of the Americas

  • Survival and resistance, including slave revolts in NY

  • Students will analyze slavery as a deeply established component of the colonial economic system and social structure, 

NEXT GENERATION Reading Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 11-12

RH1. Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources, connecting insights gained from specific details to an understanding of the text as a whole.

RH 4. Determine the meanings of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including analyzing how an author uses and refines the meaning of a key term over the course of a text 

RH8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information. 


Next Generation English Language Arts Learning Standards

7R1: Cite textual evidence to support an analysis of what the text says explicitly/impli7413

citly and make logical inferences.

7R4: Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings. Analyze the impact of specific word choices on meaning, tone, and mood, including words with multiple meanings. 

7R9: Use established criteria in order to evaluate the quality of texts. Make connections to other texts, ideas, cultural perspectives, eras, and personal experiences. (RI&RL)

7W1: Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.

7W1b: Support claim(s) with logical reasoning and relevant evidence, using credible sources while demonstrating an understanding of the topic or text. 

7W1c: Use precise language and content-specific vocabulary to argue a claim. 

7W1d: Use appropriate transitions to create cohesion and clarify the relationships among ideas and concepts.


Social Studies Practices and Historical Thinking Skills

Gathering, Interpreting, and Using Evidence:

  • identify, select, and evaluate about events from diverse sources;

  • Analyze evidence in terms of historical context, content, etc.

Chronological Reasoning and Causation:

  • Identify causes and effects using examples from current events, grade-level content, and historical events.

Comparison and Contextualization
• Identify and categorize multiple perspectives on a given historical experience; Connect historical developments to specific circumstances of time and place and to broader regional, national or global processes.
Geographical context-reasoning:
• Recognize and analyze how characteristics (cultural, economic and physical-environmental) of regions affect the history of the United States.

**Credits: Designed and written by Howard Marcus; High School Teacher at Spring Valley High School and Pomona Middle School. 

**Resources Used: Primary source documents from Consider the Source New York and the Westchester archives.  


Materials Used: Primary Source documents and graphic organizers. 

PROCEDURE: Warm–up: Begin the lesson by asking the students how they would feel if we saw a video of someone destroying a desktop computer. Ask students when they place their belongings in the backpack before school are they concerned about the comfort of their notebooks and their other belongings. Does a notebook or pen feel pain? Elicit student responses. Activate their prior knowledge to relate these questions  to the horrors of the middle passage. How were the people from Africa transported across the Atlantic ocean? Elicit student responses. Ask students what the consequences are of not seeing people as human beings? 

**Mini-lecture. Ask a volunteer to read the Big Idea-Historical Context provides the context to how prevalent slavery was in New York City and New York State compared to the other regions and cities in the Northeast. Many Americans and New Yorkers are unaware of this. Activate prior knowledge by asking each student to write down what they already know about the Atlantic slave trade and middle passage. Reinforce this by having students complete the brief fill-in warm activity. The purpose here is to activate their prior knowledge. 

  • Review the key-terms and concepts which are applied throughout the lesson. This provides context with chronology as well as being better able to analyze the primary sources.

Description of Procedure: The lesson is structured around the primary sources and the specific analytical tools and reading skills and strategies for each primary source. Each primary source analysis can be viewed as its own learning activity. This provides structure and organization to the lesson. This method of implementing the lesson provides student engagement while continuing to build on students’ analytical reading and writing skills. 

  1. Document 1-Activity 1: Thinking–analytical skills-tools: sourcing, contextualization and close reading. 

  • Connect the primary source to students’ prior knowledge in order to build historical context.  Connect the source-document to Dutch involvement in the Age of Exploration, Columbian Exchange and their“New World” possession of the Caribbean island of Curacao and Colonial New Amsterdam (New York). 

  • Connect students to the geographical context of Curacao. Have student volunteers map the journey from Africa to Curacao to New Amsterdam–New York for their group or class. Students should know that sugar grew much better in the Caribbean compared to Europe because of the climate.

  • Connect the definition of bill of lading to the primary source and to their own lives.  Do they ever track shipments from their online purchases?

By evaluating the primary source and reflecting on prior knowledge students will be in a better position to express the ship captain's point of view as well as the other people involved. 

  • Students should come away with evidence that everyone involved, except those enslaved, viewed the enslaved Africans as merchandise, which made it easier to not feel compassion or sympathy for them. 

  • Encourage students individually or in groups of three to annotate documents, and paraphrase; model this for students if necessary.

  • Ask students what specifically shocked them the most from the ship captain's description of his “cargo.” 

Document–Activity 2: 

  • Review the vocabulary of what an estate sale is, but more importantly have students restate the following in their own words, “This inventory lists the value of the possessions of the deceased.” Having a deeper understanding of possessions will get closer to the learning objectives. 

  • Have students as a class or from their groups share one or two of the possessions from the inventory (list) from the deceased Edward Pell. 

  • Have students determine the economic value and what that means in terms of goods and services and what might have been different then in terms of value. 

  • In terms of the social structure in New York State and America, students reflect on where enslaved African Americans were in the social structure or a better word might be relegated to where exactly in the social structure. (The goal is to get them to see how they were relegated to possessions, personal property, right there on an inventory of possessions from the deceased). 

  • Corroborate the idea–concept of possessions to document #1. Was there economic value? And who exactly was determining their worth?

  • It’s worth also asking students to remember what was happening in the new United States. Was the date–year 1787 important? The new Constitution was written.

  • Ask students or have them research or predict whether the issue of abolishing slavery was discussed at the Constitutional Convention.

Document–Activity 3:    

  • Ask students to connect the concept of possessions to the other two documents. 

  • Ask students to reflect on what the author means when he wrote that he will “prosecute any person or persons so injuring me.” As they source the document. 

  • Ask students what they think might have been left out of the advertisement? 

  • Why is there a picture-sketch? Who is it? Is that what Bob might have looked like or have been carrying? 

  • What information about Bob was provided or not provided? 

  • Ask students to reflect on the author’s tone in the letter in terms of how it connects to the idea of resistance, fighting back. Did he seem upset? 

  • In addition to audacious, what are some adjectives to describe the slave owner, based on what he wrote in the advertisement. 

  • Ask students to predict if more men or women resisted by running away? Explain why? 

Discussion:  Why are runaway advertisements a valuable resource for historians-writers-scholars? What also might be their drawbacks?

14. Extensions (if applicable):

* Research the slave population in New York State. How many African Americans were enslaved in 1823, the year the runaway advertisement from Kingston NY was published. 

* Bring in the concepts of sectionalism and expansion. As the 1800s moves forward how are the North and South going to grow further apart as a result of the Louisiana Purchase and the War of 1812? How will the fugitive slave act impact the concept and issue of sectionalism. (Regents Prep)


  1.  The students will be evaluated by their active participation and their written analysis to the three primary sources. 

  2.  Where students are in how they source documents and place documents in their historical context and their written paragraph where they support their claims with evidence from the primary sources. 

  3. How they respond and answer questions–climb up the DOK–that challenge their critical thinking skills.  

  4. The ability to synthesize by creating their own historical narrative as to why they think the enslaved person ran away where the enslaved person went.