Antislavery: 1831-1865

U.S. History
Antislavery: 1831-1865 
Name/School: Joan O’Brien, The MacDuffie School
Course and Grade Level: U.S. History – Grade 11

Topic: Antislavery

Lesson:  Introduction to Antislavery unit

Overview:  This is an introduction to a unit on Antislavery that can be a unit in itself or part of a larger unit on Antebellum Reform.  The exercise will allow the students to continue their practice of working with primary documents and to generate some of their own questions about the upcoming unit.  The documents for this lesson should generate questions about issues of race and gender within the movement and will serve as reference points as we encounter other documents in our exploration of the topic.

Time: 1 day

Materials:  Possible documents for the packet:

  • Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington to William Lloyd Garrison, January 22, 1834 (Amherst College--PPH Collection, Box 12, Folder 20)
  • William Pitkin Huntington to Elizabeth Whiting Phelps Huntington, February 11, 1839 (Amherst College, PPH Collection, Box 19, Folder 5)
  • Preamble from Constitution of the Providence Anti-Slavery Society and excerpts from minutes of Dec. 24, 1833 and January 22, 1834 (SSC  Slavery/Antislavery Collection Box 1a)
  • Assorted excerpts from Right and Wrong, in Boston, 1835 Annual Report of the Boston Female Anti-slavery Society, (SSC  Slavery/Antislavery Collection, Box 1, Folder 14.
  • Proceedings of the 1838 Anti-Slavery Convention of American Women in Philadelphia, pp. 7-8.  (SSC  Slavery/Anti-Slavery Collection, Box 1, Folder 2)
  • “Resolutions and Remonstrances of the People of Colour Against Colonization to the Coast of Africa” 1818, in Witness for Freedom, ed. C. Peter Ripley et al., pp. 30-32
  • “Professed Friends,” Samuel Ringgold Ward to National Anti-Slavery Standard, in Witness, pp. 116-17. 


                Concepts:  Race and Gender in the Antislavery Movement
                Content:  Content is student-generated and will be covered in the overall unit.
                Skills:  Analyze evidence and draw conclusions, identify pertinent questions, identify research possibilities.


Students will read the packet of documents for homework and answer the following questions:                

  • What facts do we know about antislavery after reading these documents?  
  • What things might we hypothesize or conjecture based on what we’ve read?               
  • What questions do these documents raise for us? 
  • What else do we need to know to answer these questions and test our hypotheses? 
  • How/where might we find that information? 

The next day in class students will discuss their findings within small groups and then bring that information to a larger class discussion.  It is essential that students be prepared to provide textual evidence to support their list of facts.  We will also discuss the use of primary documents—benefits and challenges (part of on-going discussion throughout the year).

Evaluation/Assessment:  Students will be evaluated on the lists they generate, their notes on the documents, and their participation in class.

Integration possibilities:  

There is some integration in the larger unit.  The students read Frederick Douglass’ Narrative in American Literature as a chronicle of slavery; in my class we look at it as an abolitionist text.

Tips/reflections from author:  

I have possibly included too many documents (though some are very short excerpts) and the teacher may choose to give a smaller number of documents to different groups of students.  Depending on the size of the class and the length of the period, the teacher may choose to avoid the small group discussion and have only one large discussion.  Again, this is a point of departure for a long unit.

Preamble from Constitution of the Providence Anti-Slavery Society: 

“We the undersigned believe that a difference in the human complexion forms no just exception to the principle which assumes that ‘all mean are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ Hence we believe tat any slave is entitled to immediate emancipation from bondage; and that the people of color are entitled to the same natural and political privileges with other persons.”

Excerpts from minutes of Dec. 24, 1833 and January 22, 1834 of the Providence Anti-Slavery Society:

“Mr. Scott offered the following Resolution—Resolved, that we are highly gratified in having the company at this meeting of several of our colored members and brethren—and that we cordially invite them to meet with us in the future, to take part in our deliberations and unite their exertions with ours, according to the ability that God shall give them.”
“Resolved, that in the opinion of this Society it would be highly inconsistent in any member of the Anti-Slavery Society, or friend of Abolition and the equal rights of man, to give his vote in favor of any constitution for this state which should exclude colored men from the right of suffrage whose qualifications are equal with those to whom that right is extended.”

(Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College:  Slavery/Antislavery Collection Box 1a)

From Right and Wrong, in Boston, 1835 Annual Report of the Boston Female Anti-slavery Society,

Quoted from the Boston Commercial Gazette, October 13, 1835

“Has it come to this that women of our country—not content with their proper sphere, the domestic fireside—must hold public meetings to encourage the efforts of a foreign emissary to destroy the peace?  Are there not sufficient deluded men already engaged in the work of abolition that the interference of females may be dispensed with?”

(Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College: Slavery/Antislavery Collection, Box 1, Folder 14.)