Both Martha and George Washington were slave owners, a fact that did not particularly disturb either one of them, although it is said that George wanted to free his slaves upon his death, and could not because they actually belonged to Martha. Slavery in the south in the colonial period was perceived as a necessary and normal part of plantation life. Not everyone owned slaves, and some owners treated their slaves better than others, but the fact of slavery was not questioned much at the time.
The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the very beginnings of slavery in the American colonies, from 1607 to the Revolutionary War, through the production of PowerPoint presentations using both primary and secondary sources, that become a “Virtual Museum” of the beginning of slavery in America.
Access to the Internet; access to print materials on slavery; PowerPoint or other presentation program; blank CDs or DVDs.
1. Introduce the lesson by asking students to explore the PBS site, Slavery and the Making of America. If possible, obtain the video of the program and show it to the students. In addition, focus the students’ attention on the website, A Virtual Museum (below), and indicate that each student will be making a PowerPoint presentation that will become part of a Virtual Museum DVD.
2. Divide students into four groups, and assign each group the task of watching one of the examples of virtual museums on the Virtual Museum website. Ask students to take notes on the layout of each slide, what kinds of information is on each one, how they “flow” together, etc.
3. Bring students together to share information and ideas based on what they have learned.
4. Then, using the websites listed below, as well as any other online resources (including the PBS program), each student should explore a particular topic having to do with the early history of slavery in the colonies. Many topics are possible, and students should feel free to design their own.
5. Once a topic is selected, students need to find images and text that tell the story they want to tell. One good source of images is the African American Odyssey section of the Library of Congress’s American Memory Collection. Have students look for images and text on other websites, and in books. If pictures from books are scanned, be sure students check on copyright issues. All images and quoted text should be cited and/or annotated.
6. Students should plan their slides carefully, laying out the content on a story-board (see website on storyboarding, below). When the storyboard is complete, students can begin making the PowerPoint.
7. When all “stories” are completed, they should be downloaded to a CD or DVD, which could be duplicated for the school library, for parents, etc.
Extending the Lesson:
This lesson could be extended by involving the librarian and/or media specialist in the school, as well as art and music teachers, English teachers, etc., and their students. It could, in fact, become a school-wide project.
Sources & Resources:
Martha Washington and Slavery
Chronology of the History of Slavery
Thoughts on Slavery by John Wesley
Slavery in Colonial Times
Slavery and the Making of America (PBS)
A Virtual Museum
This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University, with some inspiration from the PBS program, Slavery and the Making of America.