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Summer 2022 Educator Guide

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History Detective: The Search for Voices Silenced in History

Compelling Question: How do historians find evidence of individuals and groups who have been largely excluded from the historical record?

Historical Background

History is a discipline that requires many skills and much patience. Books on historical topics are the result of painstaking research and years of dedication. Readers enjoy the final results of a historians research without seeing the various paths the writer took to arrive at that final historical narrative. Writing the history of those groups who have been pushed to the margins of society presents unique challenges and increased levels of creativity on the part of the historian. Documents that appear to be irrelevant often hold keys to unlocking those histories.

In their article, Black Soph, Jennifer Cassidy and Sallie Sypher give readers a glimpse into the world of historical research and the development of a historical narrative. The authors detail their search for a more complete story of one of the last remaining enslaved individuals in New York State. The historical record, mostly created by those in power, often lacks clear evidence of those individuals and groups who were oppressed and marginalized by those in charge. How do the writers of history find those voices? Cassidy and Sypher provide some possible answers to that question. 

Jamie Brinkman, an archivist at the New York State Archives, describes a set of documents related to the lives of enslaved children in New York State. In the era of gradual emancipation, enslavers registered the children born to enslaved women with the state as "abandoned" in exchange for compensation for their care. The system was meant to provide a way for enslavers to give up their rights to a child's labor. The child then became a pauper and could be bound out for service by the overseers of the poor. In this way, the children became indentured pauper. In the article, Indentured Paupers, readers gain a better understanding of this system and the valuable information available through these records. 

Black Soph Full Article

Guided Reading Questions

Where is evidence found for an enslaved person in Putnam County, New York in 1855?

Prior the American Revolution, what was the status of most farmers in the area that was to become Putnam County?

How many enslaved individuals lived on the property of an average Putnam County enslaver? How was this different than the numbers of enslaved individuals living on a Southern plantation?

What was one unique challenge faced by enslaved individuals on these Putnam County properties?

How many enslaved individuals were counted in Putnam County in 1840?

How did hisotirans begin their search for the story of this last remaining enslaved person?

Why doesn't the 1855 census provide more detailed information?

What clues does the 1840 federal census proved about this person?

How did the historians use chronological reasoning to uncover the details of this person's life?

What new questions emerged as the historians found answers to their original questions?

In what secondary source did historians find additional information to answer these questions? How did they confirm this information? What new questions emerged?

What document did they use to answer these new questions?

What questions remain unanswered? 

What conclusions can we draw from this article about the work of historians and the history we read in secondary sources?

Guided Reading Questions

What act ended slavery in New York State?

What status was given to children of enslaved mothers during the period of gradual abolition?

What happened to these children if their enslavers abandoned their rights?

Who was responsible for distributing relief funds provided by the state?

How much money did enslavers receive from the state?

What information does the documents digitized by the State Archives contain about these children and their enslavers?

How did archivists arrive at the term "indentured pauper" for these children?

How can the information in these documents be used as historical evidence for this period in history?

Why do you think it is so difficult to find evidence in the historical record about the enslaved individuals in New York State?