Lesson Plan for Slavery in the Southeast/Mississippi Corridor

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Lesson Plan for Slavery in the Southeast/Mississippi Corridor
Into: I’m going to focus on slavery. This is appropriate for economy day since slavery is first and last about economy. Last fall, we did a lesson on slavery in which (you may recall) we looked at the way in which slavery operated in three different regions of the Atlantic Coast—New England, the Lower South (South Carolina and Georgia), and the Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland). I want to review that information with you briefly as the opening part of this lesson before we shift our gaze to Louisiana.
Slavery is a very tricky subject to explore for a variety of reasons. One problem is that we tend to focus on one of two things—either the world of the planters and how they used slavery OR the ways in which enslaved people resisted slavery. Strangely, there is little connection between the two in our usual ways of teaching. And there is very little attention to people who were NEITHER masters or slaves in slave societies—that is non-slaveholding whites and free blacks. And there is also very little attention to the roles of Native Americans in slave societies.
Here’s how I’d like to do our review: I want to ask four questions about each of the three societies we discussed and see what we can remember about them. For all of these, we’re talking about the period between the introduction of slavery and the American Revolution (BEFORE cotton).
New England and the North

When did slavery begin here? Massachusetts became the first mainland British colony to legalize slavery in 1680. There were slaves here from the 1620s.

What did slaveholders need slaves for? Some wealthier farmers had one or two slaves to help with the farm labor and the domestic work. Most northern slaves lived in cities (like New York where they made up 40% of the population). They worked on the docks, did heavy labor (built the Wall in New York), and worked as servants in wealthy households where they were a status symbol. Overall, only about 10% of the northern population was enslaved.

In what ways did slaves participate in the economy of the region on their own behalf? Many northern slaves were able to “hire out” on their own. They got to keep part of their wages, which they could use to live on their own and to buy freedom.

What role did Native Americans play in the slave system here? Not much.
The Lower South (South Carolina and Georgia)

When did slavery begin here? In the Carolinas, settlers brought slaves with them when they began arriving from Barbados in the 1680s. Slavery was illegal in Georgia until the 1740s.

What did slaveholders need slaves for? Settlers in the Lower South tended to come from the West Indies where the major economic activity was to produce staple crops (e.g. sugar) for sale. They wanted to reproduce this system on the mainland. So they began to produce first cattle and lumber and then rice and long-staple cotton, using lots of African slaves, for the market. In Charleston, South Carolina, slaves were also used in the ports for heavy labor. Slaves outnumbered whites 2:1 or more in this region.

In what ways did slaves participate in the economy of the region on their own behalf? Slaves in Charleston were able to “hire out” their time, live on their own, and produce goods and foodstuffs to sell in the town market. In fact, enslaved women supplied much of the cities food from market gardens. In the countryside in the South Carolina and Georgia coast, slaves lived on very large plantations and were able to grow gardens, hunt, and fish for themselves and to sell—either to the planter, his neighbors, or to town.

What role did Native Americans play in the slave system here? In the Lower South, up to ¼ of the slaves were Native American. Others were captured and sold to the West Indies. Others participated in the slave trade by serving as run-away slave catchers.
The Chesapeake (Virginia and Maryland)

When did slavery begin here? Although there were slaves in Virginia by 1619, there were very few. Early “slaves” were treated like indentured servants—horribly, but they could earn their freedom and become small landowners or tenants. In the 1660s, slavery became hereditary and perpetual, and it had become a full-scale, codified slave system by 1700.

What did slaveholders need slaves for? Tobacco production for an international market. At first, planters used indentured servants, but as the supply of servants dwindled and as too many servants earned their freedom, planters turned to slaves.

In what ways did slaves participate in the economy of the region on their own behalf? Although slaves made up 30% of the population in the Chesapeake, they were not enabled to do very much economically on their own. They could not often “hire out.” They did not often have garden plots. However, by the 1700s, as planters shifted from tobacco to wheat production, they tried to make their plantations autonomous and thus taught some of their slaves to be skilled artisans. These artisans were able to control their time more and sometimes to earn money on the side.

What role did Native Americans play in the slave system here? In the early years, Native Americans collaborated with slaves who rebelled against masters. But by the time slavery was well established in Virginia, Native Americans were not much part of the system.
Lesson: Now I want to turn our attention to colonial Louisiana. Settled in the 1690s, lower Louisiana was first a French and then a Spanish settlement. Situated at the intersection of the Gulf of Mexico and the Mississippi River, lower Louisiana—particularly New Orleans—was, like other New World colonies, at a critical junction of international trade.
Consider: What are they trading in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean? Who is trading? And what about the Mississippi Corridor? Remember this connects up to the Missouri and the Ohio river valleys. Again, who is trading?
Why might the French want to establish a colony at the mouth of the Mississippi?
Drawing on what you know about other early colonies, what problems might they face? Disease, supplies, labor shortage, Indian troubles. Also floods and hurricanes and swamps.
How might they solve some of those problems?: get to slavery
So now, let’s take a look at early Louisiana—with a particular focus on slavery. I’m going to give you all 3 handouts. One is a fact sheet on the history of early Louisiana. One focuses particularly on two slave rebellions. And the third focuses on food exchange and food culture in lower Louisiana.
I want you to look at these with two sets of questions in mind:

First, the set of questions we just asked about slavery in other regions.

Second, a set of questions about the Louisiana economy:

What are the main factors in the Louisiana economy? What do they trade or produce? With whom? How, in short, do the colonists make a living?

What role does slavery play in that economy?
What role do Native Americans play in that economy? What role do the colonists and Africans play in Native American economies?
Why might an outsider have chosen to live in colonial New Orleans at any given period? What would the advantages and disadvantages have been?
Read the documents on your own and then reflect on these questions with your partners. You can work in groups of about 4 or in table groups.
Finally, with your group, write an advertisement for commercial real estate in which you try to persuade someone to come to New Orleans. As with any advertisement, you have to highlight the advantages of coming to the city and downplay any disadvantages your prospective buyer might be familiar with. Choose one of the following as your audience:

-French colonists in 1720

-French colonists in 1730

-Spanish colonists in 1770

-West Indian colonists in 1796

-French Jacobins (supporters of the French Revolution) in 1795

-Free African Americans in 1805

-Choctaws in 1785

Beyond: Report out.
Quick reflection: Louisiana seems like a particularly good place to see what an international multicultural colonial world might have looked like. But here’s the really amazing thing: We can see this particularly well in Louisiana only because it is a colony with which we are not familiar. All of the elements that we’ve highlighted here—the multicultural blended economy, the need for forced labor, the international exchange, the global market—you can find that in ANY of the early colonies from Jamestown to Salem to St. Augustine to Santa Fe to Vancouver to Monterey. The only difference is that the traditional narrative wipes all this out of the story and leaves us with something in which even when we are reminded of all this we still hold on to our cultural “memory” of the past.

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