Skip to content
Chronological Reasoning and Causation

Life of the Enslaved in New York State

  1. Load Letter from Killis to Mr. James Carpenter, Goshen, June 17, 1816 in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Broadside. Thirty Dollars Reward for Killis, January 5, 1807 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Topics: New York State slavery, Empathy

 ​​​​​​Skills: Perspective taking, Digital literacy, Inference

These documents provide a partial story about a New York State enslaved person that ran away from the enslaver and ended up in prison but is requesting permission to return to the enslaver rather than remain in prison. Using these two primary documents truly allows students to experience what it is like to piece a historic story together through primary document analysis. Struggles of enslaved New York State residents and attitudes of New York State enslavers. Slavery existed in northern states just as it did in southern states in the early 1800s.

 ​​​​​​Historical Context: Slavery began in New York State in 1626. In 1703, 42% of New York City’s households had enslaved members. While enslaved individuals in New York State were emancipated in 1827, African-American men did not obtain voting rights in New York State until the 15th Amendment was ratified in 1870.

Essential Question: What was life like for enslaved people in New York State?

Document Analysis:

1)      Source document: 

a.       What type of document is this? How do you know that?

b.      What year was it written?

c.       Who wrote the letter?

d.      Who received the letter?

e.      Where was it mailed from?

f.        Where was it mailed to?

2)      Teacher reads the letter to the class. 

3)      Class highlights important information from the letter or takes notes.  Example of notes: Killis arrested for stealing, states he is innocent, parents died, requesting to return to service, etc…

4)      Teacher asks the following questions:

a.       What year did Killis leave Mr. Carpenter’s service?

b.      Do we know why Killis left service?

c.       What is meant by the phrase, “I am fully sensible of my folly in leaving you as I did, and for which I sincerely repent”?

5)       Divide the class into groups of 4-5 students. Based on notes and class discussion, groups need to develop an inference concerning the relationship between Mr. Carpenter and Killis. Students might infer Killis was his slave (evidence: Implore forgiveness, I will return to my duty), indentured servant(evidence: Killis has a last name, service, and duty language), or a worker (evidence:  Killis is literate). 

6)       Handout copy of NYS slavery laws. 

a.       Fugitive Slave Law of 1793 – If a child was born to an enslaved mother then the child was property and slave of the owner.  Additionally, if an escaped slave was caught, the slave had to be returned to the owner. Returning escaped slaves to their owners became a lucrative enterprise for some people.  However, free blacks were at risk of being kidnapped and transported to the South to be sold into slavery or used to obtain rewards from slave owners with escaped slaves.

b.      NYS Gradual Emancipation 1799 – If a child was born after 1799, then they were considered to be a free-born slave. Any slave born before 1799 was not considered free and remained a slave.

c.       Freedom in NYS 1827 –Legislation was passed to free all slaves in the state starting July 4, 1827.

2.      Does any of this information influence your inference?

3.      If so, why?

7)      Teacher hands out Reward document. Source document:

a.       What type of document is this?

b.      How do you know that?

c.       What year was it written?

d.      What is the purpose of the document?

e.      Who wrote the document?

f.        Where could this document be found?

8)      Teacher reads a document to class.

9)      Does this second document provide answers concerning Mr. Carpenter and Killis’s relationship? Explain to students this process of finding multiple documents that relate to each other helps historians corroborate evidence.

a.       According to the information in both documents approximately how old was Killis when he left Mr. Carpenter’s service?

b.      Does Mr. Carpenter refer to Killis's last name?  Why?

c.       B.  Using map scale how many miles is Goshen, NY from Troy, NY?

10)  Students will then be given DBQ questions to analyze and interpret information in the documents individually for a grade.