Slavery and the Making of AmericaPicture of slave women cultivating a village garden in Central Africa, Courtesy of the University of Virginia Library
Time and Place Slave Memories Resources The Slave Experience

K-12 Learning
Intro Historical Fiction Primary Sources Lesson Plans Virtual Museum Credits
Lesson Plans
Elementary Middle School High School
Middle School Lesson Plan 2
Torn From Each Other's Arms: Slavery and the African American Family Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students
Introductory Activity: "The Family as a Cultural, Social and Political Unit"

1) To begin the discussion of the family unit, ask your students the following questions:
  • Ask your students why families are important.

  • Ask your students how culture is transmitted through families.
    Answer: Students may discuss family stories, special family recipes, jokes, special holidays and events.

  • Ask your students to consider how the family serves as an economic institution.
    Answer: Students may discuss the work parents and children do to bring income to the family; how household work helps to support the family breadwinner; and how wealth is passed down from parents to children.

  • Ask your students how the government through its laws, protects, supports and encourages families.

  • Ask your students why society sees benefits in encouraging strong, stabile family units.

2) To continue the discussion, ask the following:
  • Ask your students to consider the impact of the slave trade on African families.
    Answer: Students may answer that individuals were torn from their family members in Africa.

  • Ask your students how newly enslaved Africans might have attempted to reconstitute families.

  • Ask your students how slavery destroyed families.
    Answer: Family members could be sold away, family members could be subjected to rape or other forms of abuse.

  • Ask your students how slaveholders might have used family ties as a form of social control.

  • Family ties could be used to prevent slaves from running away. Family members could be threatened with punishment or sale to enforce discipline.
3) Insert SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 1, "The Downward Spiral" into your VCR. CUE the tape 11 minutes into Episode 1, just before the depiction of "the first recorded marriage between black people in Dutch New Amsterdam." Provide your students with the question sheet HALF-FREEDOM AND INDENTURED SERVITUDE for a focused viewing of the documentary. START the tape and let it run for approximately 9:30 MINUTES, covering the segment on Dutch New Amsterdam and "half freedom" and the segment on the attempted escape and trial of the black indentured servant John Punch. PAUSE the tape from time to time to give students an opportunity to respond to the questions on HALF-FREEDOM AND INDENTURED SERVITUDE.

4) Following the conclusion of the 9:30 minute video segment involve the students in a discussion of the material covered in the questionnaire. You may collect the questionnaire completed by the students for assessment purposes.

Learning Activity: "Emanuel Driggus and his Family"

1) Insert SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, Episode 1, "The Downward Spiral" into your VCR. CUE the tape 20 MINUTES into Episode 1. This video segment, which will last approximately 12 MINUTES, concerns the Atlantic Creole Emanuel Driggus and his offspring, who lived in Eastern Virginia during the last part of the 17th Century.

2) Divide your classroom into groups of three and give each group the handout EMANUEL DRIGGUS AND HIS FAMILY. Ask your students to write down the dates and corresponding events as they watch the video. Some events depicted in the video segment may be undated. Add those events in the order in which they occur in the video. You may elect to PAUSE the video from time to time, to give students an opportunity to write down specific comments (there is a lot of information packed into this short video segment).

3) Bring your classroom together and have the groups report back on their Timelines. If there are any differences in reporting dates and events, work with your students to resolve those differences.

4) Rewind the video back to the beginning of the section on Emanuel Driggus and his family. Divide your students into the same groups of three and this time have them create a family chart using the handout DRIGGUS FAMILY CHART. Tell your students that they should report the legal status (free, enslaved, indentured) of each family member. Some family members are not named in the documentary; for these, enter as "son," "daughter," or "child."

5) Bring your classroom together and have the groups report back on their Family Charts. If there are any differences in reporting, work with your students to resolve those differences.

6) As you discuss the Family Charts ask your students the following questions:
  • Describe Emanuel Driggus' legal condition. Was he a slave, a free man, or something else?

  • Why did the status of the Driggus children vary?
    Answer: Some were born before Emanuel obtained his freedom, some afterwards.

  • How was the Driggus family disrupted by the Pott's family's financial situation?
    Answer: Two children were sold to pay off debts.

  • Even as a free man, in what ways was Emanuel Driggus treated differently than whites?
    Answer: He may pay more for land and livestock and racial differences are becoming a greater factor in how he is treated by others.

  • How is Emanuel Driggus able to see to the needs of his children?
    Answer: He buys them livestock and helps them out.

  • Why is Frances, Emanuel's granddaughter, brought to trial by John Brewer?
    Answer: She is charged first for fornication; then for having a child out of wedlock.

  • How does Frances use the courts?
    Answer: She fights the attempt to bind her over to another master, arguing that it will place her in slavery.

7) The story of Emanuel Driggus is informative because it shows, in a very personal way, how the status of African American slaves and free men and women evolved during the early years of slavery in the English Colonies. Ask your students to describe that transition. Ask your students to speculate as to why we know so much about the Driggus family.

Tip: You may want to point out to your students that most of the information regarding the Driggus family came from court records. Court records are a valuable source for historians interested in the lives of people who often leave little behind in the way of personal accounts. For homework, you may ask your students to read an essay on Emanuel Driggus.

Culminating Activity/Assessment: "Lost Relatives"

Following the Civil War, thousands of freed men and women tried to reunite with family members. Some traveled the South in search of loved ones. Others tried to locate lost relatives by placing advertisements in African American newspapers. This culminating activity will look at some of these advertisements.

1) Tell your students that there were approximately four million African Americans living in the United States following the Civil War. Ask them to speculate as to how many of these African Americans may have lost track of relatives. Ask your students if they know of other historical events in which people may have lost touch with family members

Answer: Following World War II the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration assisted many displaced persons in locating lost family members. Following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th many people posted notices about their missing loved ones.

2) Have your students visit the Web site or pass out copies of Want Ads for Lost Relatives 1865-1867, a collection of advertisements taken from "The Colored Tennessean" newspaper. Have your students break into groups of three or four students each to read the advertisements, while answering the questions provided in the handout, LOST RELATIVES. Allow fifteen minutes for this activity.

3) Bring the class together and ask them to report their findings to the whole class. If there are any differences in reporting findings allow for time to come to a general conclusion on the results of their study. Ask the students if they think these advertisements were effective. Tell your students that most freed men and women could not read. How would this information be communicated to others?

Tip: Tell your students that these advertisements were often read aloud in African American churches.

4) Implicit in these short advertisements are personal stories of tragic and epic proportions. Randomly assign one advertisement to each student in your class. You may want to cut them into individual strips and have students select them from a hat or basket. Based on the information in the advertisement and their knowledge of the subject of slavery from the video SLAVERY AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA, have your students create a short story about the circumstances related in these ads, written from the point of view of the person who placed the original advertisement. After assessment, you may wish to collect these stories into a classroom "book."

Tip: For examples of fictional stories based on historical fact, ask your students to read the appropriate supporting readings.

Cross-Curricular Extensions

Consider reading Harriett Jacobs' "Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl" with a special emphasis on the role that family plays in her autobiography.

Community Connections
  • Conduct a community oral history project on family ties.

  • Create a family tree. View the example family tree of the Carter Family.

  • Conduct a local history project that focuses on the role of the family in settling your community. This project might focus on past or recent immigration.

Suggestions for Further Reading

Ira Berlin, "Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves" (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).

Herbert George Gutman, "The Black Family in Slavery and Freedom, 1750-1925" (New York: Pantheon Books, 1976).

James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton, "Slavery and the Making of America" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).

Michael P. Johnson, "Looking for Lost Kin: Efforts to Reunite Freed Families after Emancipation," in Catherine Clinton, ed., "Southern Families at War: Loyalty and Conflict in the Civil War South" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000).
printer-friendly formatemail this page to a friend
About the Series K-12 Learning Feedback [an error occurred while processing this directive]Support PBS