After the American Revolution: Free African Americans in the North (2024)

Content Standards

NCSS.D2.His.1.6-8. Analyze connections among events and developments in broader historical contexts.

NCSS.D2.His.2.6-8. Classify series of historical events and developments as examples of change and/or continuity.

NCSS.D2.His.3.6-8. Use questions generated about individuals and groups to analyze why they, and the developments they shaped, are seen as historically significant.

NCSS.D2.His.4.6-8. Analyze multiple factors that influenced the perspectives of people during different historical eras.

NCSS.D2.His.5.6-8. Explain how and why perspectives of people have changed over time.

NCSS.D2.His.6.6-8. Analyze how people’s perspectives influenced what information is available in the historical sources they created.

NCSS.D3.1.6-8. Gather relevant information from multiple sources while using the origin, authority, structure, context, and corroborative value of the sources to guide the selection.

NCSS.D3.2.6-8. Evaluate the credibility of a source by determining its relevance and intended use.

NCSS.D3.3.6-8. Identify evidence that draws information from multiple sources to support claims, noting evidentiary limitations.

NCSS.D3.4.6-8. Develop claims and counterclaims while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both.


  • Review the lesson plan. Locate and bookmark suggested materials and other useful websites. Download and print out documents you will use and duplicate copies as necessary for student viewing.
  • Download the Master PDF. Print out and make an appropriate number of copies of any handouts you plan to use in class. The rubric provided includes some of the literary elements discussed in the lesson as well as other generally used standards. The most effective rubric would be based on your students' skills, class discussion, and your specific goals for the assignment.
  • This lesson may be taught in language arts classes, social studies classes, or both. You can coordinate this lesson effectively with instruction on punctuating quotations.
  • Many biographers, even those known for their research and accuracy, use literary techniques. Here is the opening passage from author David McCullough's recent bestseller, the biography of John Adams (Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group, 2001):
    "In the cold, nearly colorless light of a New England winter, two men on horseback traveled the coast road below Boston, heading north. A foot or more of snow covered the landscape, the remnants of a Christmas storm that had blanketed Massachusetts from one end of the province to the other. Beneath the snow, after weeks of severe cold, the ground was frozen solid to a depth of two feet. Packed ice in the road, ruts as hard as iron, made the going hazardous, and the riders, mindful of the horses, kept at a walk.

    "… Dressed as they were in heavy cloaks, their hats pulled low against the wind, they were barely distinguishable even from each other, except that the older, stouter of the two did most of the talking."

McCullough begins the book "in medias res," in the middle of a sequence of events, a familiar literary device. He will return to earlier events later, a technique reminiscent of a flashback. McCullough uses suspense in not immediately revealing the names of the two men. He uses description to add authenticity to the moment. But how did McCullough know the quality of the light on that particular day? Through the writing of one of the participants? Through his own experience of a New England winter? How did he know what was in the mind of the riders ("mindful of the horses")? Through the writing of one of the participants? Through a logical assumption? How did McCullough know they had their "hats pulled low against the wind"? Would one of the participants have mentioned such a fact in an account of that ride? It doesn't matter to the reader because the likelihood is great that they would have had their hats pulled down. The inclusion of the detail of the hats adds to the authenticity of the account while doing nothing to lessen the accuracy of the work.

This lesson increases student awareness of the role of literary techniques and historical accuracy in biography and offers students the opportunity to deal with both issues in practice.

  • If practical, in the days preceding this lesson, the class should hear portions of a relevant biography read aloud; this could happen in social studies or language arts class. Frederick Douglass would be a good subject because he is not included in the lesson. As you read, point out factual elements likely to have come from Douglass's own firsthand accounts as well as the techniques the author may have used to add authenticity and reality to the story (for example, images; story-like structure; real or implied speech-the actual words of a participant inside quotation marks or speech that is described but not quoted, such as, "he told me that I should…"; the thoughts and/or emotions of a character; facts from primary sources woven into the story, etc.). Then use your read-aloud book as a model in the lesson, or use the passage provided from Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth by Anne Rockwell, a biography of Sojourner Truth for young people.
  • For background on African Americans between the American Revolution and the Civil War, read Part I and Part II of “Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period” on the EDSITEment resource American Memory.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Meet Sojourner Truth

Without revealing her identity, share with the class Sojourner Truth's carte de visite from the EDSITEment resource American Memory. According to the Library of Congress:

"[these] miniature portraits used as calling cards, were extremely popular during the American Civil War. These photographic calling cards, approximately 21/2 x 4 inches in size, had been invented in France in the early 1850s, and their popularity quickly spread throughout Europe and eventually to the United States, where the corollary development of the photograph album spurred a collecting craze in the 1860s that became known as Cartomania. In addition to assembling albums of family photographs, the public sought to collect images of celebrities…

"It was common practice during the war to acquire such portraits through gift or purchase …"

This card was created around 1864, before the end of the Civil War.

Have students list their observations about the card. If desired, use the Photo Analysis Worksheet on the EDSITEment-reviewed website National Archives Educator Resources. Then, prompt discussion about the card based on these observations. Does it seem that this card was sold or given away? (One possible hint is the caption, "I sell the shadow to support the substance." Sojourner did support herself, in part, through the sale of her photographs.) If the card was sold, that means people wanted it enough to pay for it. What does that imply about the subject? The subject is seen sewing. If she had been walking down the road with a knapsack or in a field holding a tool, how would that change one's impression of the subject?

Now reveal the identity of Sojourner Truth and share with the class a brief account of her life, such as the Biography of Sojourner Truth available on the EDSITEment resource American Memory. What an eventful life! Born a slave in New York after the American Revolution, Isabella, as she was originally known, eventually became an important figure in America. It's not surprising that people like to read about her life. But how does an author make such an account lively?

The class is going to compare the three brief accounts, below, of an event in Sojourner's life to see how authors employ specific literary elements. Tell students that they will eventually use the same techniques to write about an event in the life of an African American who lived between the American Revolution and the Civil War. Make a list of the techniques your class notices.

1. As a child, Isabella was sold at auction. The Biography of Sojourner Truth on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory describes the incident in this way:

"As 'property'of several slave owners, when she was ten years old, Isabella was sold for $100 and some sheep."

Why such a brief account of this significant event? (The purpose of this piece of writing is to summarize an entire life in a few paragraphs. It can only provide the basic facts, and little else.)

2. In the Narrative of Sojourner Truth (on the EDSITEment resource American Studies at the University of Virginia), dictated by Sojourner-who could neither read nor write-to Olive Gilbert, who composed the memoir in third person, the incident is described in this way:

"A slave auction is a terrible affair to its victims, and its incidents and consequences are graven on their hearts as with a pen of burning steel.

"At this memorable time, Isabella was struck off, for the sum of one hundred dollars, to one John Nealy, of Ulster County, New York; and she has an impression that in this sale she was connected with a lot of sheep. She was now nine years of age, and her trials in life may be dated from this period."

What is added here? The thoughts and feelings of the subject are revealed-the consequences of slave auctions "are graven on their hearts." Sojourner's memory of the event is not clear in that she has “an impression.” Some additional detail is provided, such as the name of the farmer. Sojourner told her story to Olive Gilbert in hopes of making money. It is difficult to know with certainty how Gilbert may have added to or changed the narrative, either intentionally or through error. Though this version adds more than the very basic facts, Sojourner may have had an interest in finishing the project quickly. On the other hand, Gilbert had the advantage of having the speaker present as the story was related. When a story is told aloud, some information is conveyed by the facial expression. An author has to supply all the information with words only. The ability to review the material and make changes allows writers to shape their words exactly as they want.

3. Here's an account of the same event from Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth:

"Strangers stared while the auctioneer poked and pointed at the girl with the stick-showing how tall and strong she was. He promised that since she was only about nine years old and already so tall, she'd soon be able to do the work of any man …

"Tall, and strong as she was, no one bid for the slave girl called Isabella at that auction in Kingston, New York, in 1806. The sun settled low in the sky and still she wasn't sold. Finally the auctioneer offered to throw in a flock of sheep if someone would just buy the girl so he could call it a day and go home for supper.

"Then a farmer did."

This account is told more like a story. How does it differ from the others as history? What details are likely to have come from the imagination of the author? What elements are confirmed by Gilbert's account? How does Only Passing Through: The Story of Sojourner Truth differ from the others as a piece of literature? The author uses images; she appeals to the reader's senses. For example, we see the expression on the faces of those observing the auction. We get an impression through implied speech of what the auctioneer said (“He promised that …”). We can almost feel the auctioneer's stick poking us. The short sentence set aside in its own paragraph emphasizes the dramatic end of this episode. On the basis of this passage, would students term Only Passing Through as biography or historical fiction? How do students distinguish between the two (historical fiction allows more embellishment by the author, but accuracy is still expected)?

Activity 2. A Student-Created Excerpt of Biography or Historical Fiction

Using the list of writing techniques that you developed as a class in the last activity (i.e., using images to appeal to the senses; supplying a character's thoughts and/or emotions; structuring the piece with a beginning, middle, and end; and so on), the class will now work together to create an “excerpt” about Sojourner Truth.

Begin by reviewing once again Sojourner Truth's carte de visite on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory. Remind students that images such as this one can help the writer provide images for the reader. For example, what clothing in the photograph might be typical of Sojourner (the cap and glasses)? Challenge students to include some physical description of Sojourner in the passage.

Now review the following description of Sojourner's visit to the aged Mr. Dumont—her third, and last, master—who purchased Isabella from John Nealy when she was about 13 (available through the Narrative of Sojourner Truth on the EDSITEment resource American Studies at the University of Virginia):

"Sojourner … found him, still living, though advanced in age, and reduced in property, (as he had been for a number of years,) but greatly enlightened on the subject of slavery. He said he could then see that 'slavery was the wickedest thing in the world, the greatest curse the earth had ever felt-that it was then very clear to his mind that it was so, though, while he was a slaveholder himself, he did not see it so, and thought it was as right as holding any other property.' Sojourner remarked to him, that it might be the same with those who are now slaveholders. 'O, no,' replied he, with warmth, 'it cannot be. For, now, the sin of slavery is so clearly written out, and so much talked against,-(why, the whole world cries out against it!)-that if any one says he don't know, and has not heard, he must, I think, be a liar …"

Students will now create the excerpt about Sojourner, based on this episode. First, brainstorm as a class about what pictures an author could "paint" to make the scene come to life (the aged slave master, the decrepit property)? What was Sojourner probably thinking as she approached the property? When she first saw her former master? As she was talking to Mr. Dumont? We have the benefit of Mr. Dumont's words as Sojourner remembered them. Use quotation marks to turn some of his words into direct quotes. Ask a volunteer to suggest an opening sentence or even start the class with, “As Sojourner walked down the road to Mr. Dumont's house, she …”

When the class has finished the excerpt, evaluate it. Would they categorize what they've come up with as biography or historical fiction?

Activity 3. Meet Other Post-Revolutionary Era African Americans

Working individually or in small groups, students now will be given some primary and secondary information on an African American who lived between the end of the American Revolution and the outbreak of the Civil War. Based on a specific event in that person's life, students will compose an “excerpt” from a biography of the individual or historical fiction with the individual as a character. One or more members of each group may serve as illustrators. In addition, each group should prepare a very brief summary of the individual's life based on one or more secondary accounts.

Teacher Tips for this Activity

  • Decide in advance how the passages and summaries will ultimately be shared (in print, on computer, read aloud, etc.).
  • In some classes, it may be appropriate for students to do their own research and select their own individuals and/or events, but suggested assignments are offered below with EDSITEment resources. Remind students that the goal is to use literary techniques in writing the excerpt while avoiding anything that could be deemed factually inaccurate.
  • A meticulous professional author or scholar would research every possible detail for a biography or piece of historical fiction. This might include research on the typical weather at a given time or place and details about clothing, speech, and personal habits. Even though students do not have sufficient time to research every detail, discuss with them the kind of research a professional author would have to do to guarantee accuracy.
  • If you are going to evaluate student work using a rubric, review it with the class prior to the assignment. Tell students how the excerpts and brief summaries will be shared.
  • If you are teaching this lesson as part of a social studies class, now is a good time to coordinate with language arts, if desired. Students could, for example, review correct punctuation for dialogue. Students can practice turning implied speech into quotations. For example, this excerpt from A Brief Account of the Settlement and Present Situation of the Colony of Sierra Leone By Paul Cuffee on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory:
    "I gave the King a testament and let him know by the interpreter the useful records contained in these books, and the great fountain they pointed to."
    could become:
    "Handing the King a Bible, I told him through the interpreter, 'This book contains many useful records, stories and guidance that will point you to a great fountain of knowledge and love.'"

Suggested Assignments

Another Event in the Life of Sojourner Truth—In the following famous event, told in the chapter “Another Camp Meeting” from the Narrative of Sojourner Truth on the EDSITEment resource American Studies at the University of Virginia, Sojourner soothes the savagery in a gang of young men with her song and her words. The event occurs at one of the many camp meetings Sojourner attended; camp meetings feature preaching, inspirational singing, and fellowship. This particular meeting was held in Northampton, Massachusetts. The young men in the story are intruders out to do mischief.

"A party of wild young men, with no motive but that of entertaining themselves by annoying and injuring the feelings of others, had assembled at the meeting, hooting and yelling, and in various ways interrupting the services, and causing much disturbance. Those who had the charge of the meeting, having tried their persuasive powers in vain, grew impatient and tried threatening.

"The young men, considering themselves insulted, collected their friends, to the number of a hundred or more, dispersed themselves through the grounds, making the most frightful noises, and threatening to fire the tents …

"Sojourner left the tent alone and unaided, and walking some thirty rods to the top of a small rise of ground, commenced to sing, in her most fervid manner, with all the strength of her most powerful voice …

"As she commenced to sing, the young men made a rush towards her, and she was immediately encircled by … rioters, many of them armed with sticks or clubs as their weapons of defense, if not of attack. As the circle narrowed around her, she ceased singing, and after a short pause, inquired, in a gentle but firm tone, 'Why do you come about me with clubs and sticks? I am not doing harm to any one.' 'We aren't a going to hurt you, old woman; we came to hear you sing,' cried many voices, simultaneously. 'Sing to us, old woman,' cries one. 'Talk to us, old woman,' says another. 'Pray, old woman,' says a third. 'Tell us your experience,' says a fourth. 'You stand and smoke so near me, I cannot sing or talk,' she answered.

"'Stand back,' said several authoritative voices, with not the most gentle or courteous accompaniments, raising their rude weapons in the air. The crowd suddenly gave back, the circle became larger, as many voices again called for singing, talking, or praying, backed by assurances that no one should be allowed to hurt her-the speakers declaring with an oath, that they would 'knock down' any person who should offer her the least indignity."

Phillis Wheatley—The suggested event is Wheatley's visit to England, where British societal leaders received and entertained her. Early biographer and abolitionist Margaretta Matilda Odell, writing a “memoir” as a preface to an 1834 collection of Wheatley poems (see Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and a Slave on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Documenting the American South), briefly discusses the England trip. Odell, who calls herself a “collateral descendant” of Mrs. Wheatley, Phillis's mistress, claims to have information from Wheatley contemporaries and/or relatives. In this passage, she refers to “a grand niece of Mrs. Wheatly” and “our informant.” A link to the image of Phillis Wheatley described in this excerpt is listed below. It should be helpful for physical details students can use in their excerpts.

"During the winter of 1773, the indications of disease had so much increased, that her physician advised a sea voyage. This was earnestly seconded by her friends; and a son of Mr. and Mrs. Wheatley being about to make a voyage to England to arrange a mercantile correspondence, it was settled that Phillis should accompany him, and she accordingly embarked in the summer of the same year.

"She was at this time but nineteen years old, and was at the highest point of her short and brilliant career. It is with emotions of sorrow that we approach the strange and splendid scenes which were now about to open upon her--to be succeeded by grief and desolation.

"Phillis was well received in England, and was presented to Lady Huntingdon, Lord Dartmouth, Mr. Thornton and many other individuals of distinction; but, says our informant, 'not all the attention she received, nor all the honors that were heaped upon her, had the slightest influence upon her temper or deportment. She was still the same single-hearted, unsophisticated being.' During her stay in England, her poems were given to the world, dedicated to the Countess of Huntingdon, and embellished with an engraving which is said to have been a striking representation of the original. It is supposed that one of these impressions was forwarded to her mistress, as soon as they were struck off; for a grand niece of Mrs. Wheatly's informs us that, during the absence of Phillis, she one day called upon her relative, who immediately directed her attention to a picture over the fire-place, exclaiming --'See! look at my Phillis! does she not seem as though she would speak to me!'

"Phillis arrived in London so late in the season, that the great mart of fashion was deserted. She was therefore urgently pressed by her distinguished friends to remain until the Court returned to St. James's, that she might be presented to the young monarch, George III. She would probably have consented to this arrangement, had not letters from America informed her of the declining health of her mistress, who intreated her to return, that she might once more behold her beloved protegee."

  • Image of Phillis Wheatley on the EDSITEment resource American Memory. Probably the image referred to in the passage above.
  • Phillis Wheatley, a brief biography on the EDSITEment-reviewed website Africans in America, includes links to images of Wheatley.
  • Phillis Wheatley, a brief biography available on Liberty, a link from the EDSITEment resource Africans in America, includes an excerpt from a poem about George Washington.
  • Phillis Wheatley in African-American Odyssey, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, includes a link to a book of Wheatley's poems.

Benjamin Banneker—In 1753, Banneker was inspired to build his own clock after an acquaintance of his gave him a watch. Banneker took the watch apart to find out how it worked and made drawings of each component. Based on his drawings, he carved larger versions of the components out of wood and constructed a clock that kept accurate time for more than 50 years.

Venture Smith—According to the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters:

"Free labor provided possibilities for emancipation for some enslaved people. The most industrious and the most skilled of the enslaved could take greater advantage of these opportunities. Venture Smith had been born in the 1720s, the son of a West African prince who named him Broteer Furro. Slave traders captured him at the age of six, spirited him away to the coast, and transported him to a life of enslavement in Long Island and eastern Connecticut. After several changes of ownership, he was able to purchase his freedom by his labors at the age of 31. Those labors, along with his entrepreneurial activities such as fishing, working on a whaler, and agricultural activities, made possible the purchase of his son, daughter, and wife's liberty. Near the end of the 18th century he related his life history to Elisha Niles, a schoolteacher and Revolutionary war veteran. Published in 1798, A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa: But Resident above Sixty Years in the United States of America, Related by Himself recounted his successful negotiation of the slavery economy and recognition of free labor as the key to a free identity."
"About twelve years ago, I hired a whale-boat and four black men, and proceeded to Long-Island after a load of round clams. Having arrived there, I first purchased of James Webb, son of Orange Webb, six hundred and sixty clams, and afterwards, with the help of my men, finished loading my boat. The same evening, however, this Webb stole my boat, and went in her to Connecticut River, and fold her cargo for his own benefit. I thereupon pursued him, and at length, after an additional expense of nine crowns, recovered the boat; but for the proceeds of her cargo I never could obtain any compensation."
"My master owned a certain Irishman, named Heddy, who about that time formed a plan of secretly leaving his master. After he had long had this plan … he suggested it to me … after he had persuaded and much enchanted me with the prospect of gaining my freedom by such a method, I at length agreed to accompany him … We privately collected out of our master's store, six great old cheeses, two firkins of butter, and one whole batch of new bread. When we had gathered all our own clothes and some more, we took them all about midnight, and went to the waterside. We stole our master's boat, embarked, and then directed our course for the Mississippi river.

"We mutually confederated (agreed) not to betray or desert one another on pain of death. We first steered our course for Montauk Point, the east end of Long Island. After our arrival there we landed, and Heddy and I made an incursion into the island after fresh water, while our two comrades were left at a little distance from the boat, employed at cooking. When Heddy and I had sought some time for water, he returned to our companions, and I continued on looking ... When Heddy had performed his business with our companions who were engaged in cooking, he went directly to the boat, stole all the clothes in it, and then traveled away for East-Hampton, as I was informed. I returned to my fellows not long after. They informed me that our clothes were stolen, but could not determine who was the thief, yet they suspected Heddy as he was missing."

  • Venture Smith, a brief biography on the EDSITEment resource Africans in America.
  • From Venture Smith's Narrative, an excerpt from A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa also available on Africans in America, comes the following suggested event (NOTE: Students can try to use the narrative as a source for other events, but should note that it is written in a typeface using the old "s" that looks like an "f."):
  • Another excerpt from A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa, Venture Smith Frees Himself and his Family, available on the EDSITEment reviewed website History Matters, features this episode among others:

Paul Cuffee—Cuffee, a successful shipbuilder and ship owner, was one of the first African Americans to advocate African colonization. At his own expense, he transported 38 African Americans to Sierra Leone. The selected event is from Page 7 and Page 8 of “A Brief Account of the Settlement and Present Situation of the Colony of Sierra Leone” by Paul Cuffey, available on the EDSITEment resource American Memory. (NOTE: From these pages, students can navigate through the entire work, if desired.)

The Mendingo Tribe professes Mohometanism. I became acquainted with two men of this tribe who were apparently men of considerable learning; indeed this tribe, generally, appeared to be a people of some education. Their learning appeared to be the Arabic. They do not allow spirituous liquors to be made use of in this tribe. They have declined the practice of selling their own tribe; but notwithstanding this, they continue to sell those of other tribes, and thought it hard that the traffic in slaves should be abolished, as they were made poor in consequence thereof. As they themselves were not willing to submit to the bonds of slavery, I endeavored to hold this out as a light to convince them of their error. But the prejudice of education had taken too firm hold of their minds to admit of much effect from reason on this subject.

Boston King—The EDSITEment resource History Matters introduces Boston King this way:

"Realizing that their best chance of emancipation lay with the British army, as many as 100,000 enslaved African Americans became Loyalists during the War for Independence. They risked possible resale by the British or capture by the Americans, and many became refugees when the British withdrew at the end of the war. Born near Charleston, South Carolina, Boston King fled his owner to join the British. He escaped captivity several times and made his way to New York, the last American port to be evacuated by the British. King was listed in the "Book of Negroes" and issued a certificate of freedom, allowing him to board one of the military transport ships bound for the free black settlements in Nova Scotia. There, King worked as a carpenter and became a Methodist minister. He moved to Sierra Leone in 1792 and published his memoirs, one of a handful of first-person accounts by African-American Loyalist refugees."

The following suggested event from Boston King Chooses Freedom, also available on History Matters, is the story of a slave who chose to fight with the British to earn his freedom:

"… about one o'clock in the morning I went down to the river side, and found the guards were either asleep or in the tavern. I instantly entered into the river, but when I was a little distance from the opposite shore, I heard the sentinels disputing among themselves: One said "I am sure I saw a man cross the river." Another replied, "There is no such thing." It seems they were afraid to fire at me, or make an alarm, lest they should be punished for their negligence. When I had got a little distance from the shore, I fell down upon my knees, and thanked God for the deliverance. I traveled till about five in the morning, and then concealed myself till seven o'clock at night, when I proceeded forward, thro' bushes and marshes, near the road, for fear of being discovered. When I came to the river, opposite Staten-Island, I found a boat; and altho' it was very near a whaleboat, yet I ventured into it, and cutting the rope, got safe over. The (British) commanding officer, when informed of my case, gave me a passport, and I proceeded to New-York."

Francis Johnson—Johnson, a pioneering African-American composer, led a band that performed with famous white artists, unprecedented for those times. He was also the first African-American composer to have works published, the first to give public concerts, and the first American to give concerts abroad, in an 1837 tour during England's celebration of its new queen, Victoria. Students creating an excerpt about Johnson would have to rely on the image listed below (presumably Johnson himself) from the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory. The suggested event would be a scene of Johnson about to perform in England while thinking to himself about his achievements.

  • Francis Johnson, a very brief note on American Memory, includes a contemporary image of a trumpet player in a band uniform from Johnson's sheet music that could be turned into an image in the excerpt.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight: Francis Johnson, a brief biography and digitized image of a Johnson composition in the author's hand, also available on History Matters.


  • Use the rubric you have designed to evaluate the excerpts.
  • Give students the opportunity to share their excerpts either in print or aloud. If desired, students can use the chart "Revolutionary Era Free African Americans: Similarities and Differences," on pages 1–2 of the PDF as a graphic organizer for noting similarities and differences between the assigned individuals and patterns that might suggest generalizations for discussion about free African Americans living in the North during the Revolutionary era. The class might discuss such issues as the assigned individuals' involvement in abolition or colonization, participation in religion, relationship to whites, and so on. If appropriate, share with the class Part I and Part II of “Free Blacks in the Antebellum Period” on the EDSITEment resource American Memory, and compare student generalizations to the information in the essay.

Lesson Extensions

  • Students can create more extensive biographies or episodes of historical fiction using more of the memoirs written by and/or about the free African Americans in this lesson.
  • Washington, D.C., as the capital of the nation and as a district carved from slaveholding territory, makes a compelling study for students interested in further researching the lives of African Americans. Here are two places to start:
  • The EDSITEment-reviewed website The Valley of the Shadow has extensive resources comparing two nearby communities, Franklin County, Pa., and Augusta County, Va.-one free and one slave. In the section The Eve of War, students who want to dig deeply can find a wealth of material on free and enslaved African Americans.

Selected EDSITEment Websites

After the American Revolution: Free African Americans in the North (2024)
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