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Lesson Plan Slavery in the United States: Primary Sources and the Historical Record


This lesson introduces students to primary sources — what they are, their great variety, and how they can be analyzed. The lesson begins with an activity that helps students understand the historical record. Students then learn techniques for analyzing primary sources. Finally, students apply these techniques to analyze documents about slavery in the United States.


Students will be able to:

  • assess the credibility of primary sources; and
  • use a variety of primary sources to clarify, elaborate, and understand a historical period.

Lesson Preparation



Lesson Procedure

Leaving Evidence of Our Lives

How can the historical record be both huge and limited? To consider the strengths and limitations of the historical record, do the following activity:

  1. Assign students to work individually or in small groups. Alert students that they will share their activity responses with the class.
  2. Ask students to think about all the activities they were involved in during the past 24 hours, and list as many of these activities as they can remember.
  3. Have students write down what evidence, if any, each activity might have left behind.
  4. Direct students to review their lists, and then answer these questions:
    • Which of the daily activities were most likely to leave trace evidence behind?
    • What, if any, of that evidence might be preserved for the future? Why?
    • What might be left out of a historical record of these activities? Why?
    • What would a future historian be able to tell about your life and your society based on evidence of your daily activities that might be preserved for the future?
  5. Now think about a more public event currently happening (a court case, election, public controversy, law being debated), and answer these questions:
    • What kinds of evidence might this event leave behind?
    • Who records information about this event?
    • For what purpose are different records of this event made?
  6. Based on this activity, students will write one sentence that describes how the historical record can be huge and limited at the same time. As time allows, discuss as the strengths and limitations of the historical record.


In this section, students analyze primary source documents.

  1. Assign two primary sources from the primary source gallery Slavery in the United States, 1790-1865 to individuals or groups. Students should be assigned to look at two different kinds of primary sources to allow for comparison.
  2. Allow 30 to 50 minutes for students to analyze the documents. Students analyze the documents, recording their thoughts on the Primary Source Analysis Tool. Before the students begin, select questions from the teacher’s guide Analyzing Primary Sources to focus the group work, and select additional questions to focus and prompt a whole class discussion of their analysis.


In this section, students discuss their primary source analysis with the entire class and compare and contrast analysis results.

  1. Have student groups summarize their analysis of a primary source document for the class. Ask students to comment on the credibility of the source. If several groups have analyzed the same document, encourage supporting or refuting statements from other groups.
  2. Conclude the lesson with a general discussion of the following questions:
    • What was slavery like for African-Americans in the period before the Civil War?
    • Was any document completely believable? Completely unbelievable? Why or why not?
    • Did some types of primary sources seem less believable than other kinds of sources? Why do you think this is true?
    • What information about slavery did each document provide? How did looking at several documents expand your understanding of slavery?
    • If you found contradictory information in the sources, which sources did you tend to believe? Why?
    • What generalizations about primary historical sources can you make based on this document set?
    • What additional sources (and types of sources) would you like to see to give you greater confidence in your understanding of slavery?


Each student might be asked to find one additional primary source on slavery. Individuals or groups might be challenged to research and gather a set of primary sources on a topic other than slavery.

Additional activity suggestions for different types of primary sources:

  1. Objects -
    • Hypothesize about the uses of an unknown object pictured in an old photograph. Conduct research to support or refute the hypothesis. Make a presentation to the class to "show and tell" the object, hypothesis, search methods, and results.
    • Study old photographs to trace the development of an invention over time (examples: automobiles, tractors, trains, airplanes, weapons). What do the photographs tell you about the technology, tools, and materials available through time?
  2. Images -
    • Use a historic photograph or film of a street scene. Describe the sights, sounds, and smells that might surround the scene. Closely examine the image to find clues that will help you. (weather, time of day, clothing of people, vehicles and other technology, architecture, etc.)
    • Select a historical photograph or film frame. Predict what will happen one minute or one hour after the photograph or film was taken. Explain the reasoning behind your predictions
  3. Audio -
    • Research your family history by interviewing relatives. Make note of differing recollections about the same event.
    • Listen to audio recordings from old radio broadcasts. Compare the language, style of speaking, and content to radio and television programs today. How do they differ? What do they tell you about the beliefs and attitudes of the time?
  4. Statistics -
    • Study historical maps of a city, state, or region to find evidence of changes in population, industry, and settlement over time.
    • Choose a famous, historical, public building in your area. Research blueprints or architectural drawings of the building. Compare the plans to the building as it exists today. What changes do you see? Why do you think the changes occurred?
  5. Text –
    • Select a cookbook from another era. Look at the ingredients lists from a large number of recipes. What do the ingredients lists tell you about the types of foods available and the lifestyle of the time?
    • Select a time period or era. Research and read personal letters that comment on events of the time. Analyze the point of view of the letter writer. Compose a return letter that tells the author how those historical events have affected modern society.
  6. The Community -
    • Make a record of family treasures (books, tools, musical instruments, tickets, letters, photographs) using photographs, photocopies, drawings, recordings, or videotapes. What was happening in the world when ancestors were using these family treasures? How did those events affect your family?
    • Prepare a community time capsule. What primary sources will you include to describe your present day community for future generations? When should your time capsule be opened?

Lesson Evaluation

As an assessment activity, ask students to select a document from the primary source gallery Slavery in the United States, 1790-1865 that they have not yet analyzed. Have students write an analysis of the document using the rules and questions provided in the Analysis section of the lesson.


The Social Science Education Consortium
University of Colorado, Boulder


Slavery in the United States, 1790-1865

What specific information about slaves and slavery can you see in (or infer from) these photographs and text documents?

View photo gallery

Excerpt from "Report of the Board of Education for Freedmen" (1864)

Report of the Board of education for freedmen, Department of the Gulf, for the year 1864.

Read the full transcription of this document


{Begin page}

Office of the Board of Education for Freedmen, )
Department of the Gulf, ..........
February 28, 1865. ..........
Major General S. A. Hurlbut,
Commanding Department of the Gulf:

General--In complaince with your order, we have the honor to submit the following Report of the Board of Education for Freedmen, Department of the Gulf.

The Report relates the operations of the Board from the date of its organization, March 22d, 1864, to December 31st, same year--a period of nine months.


When, in April, 1862, the guns of Farragut transferred the city of New Orleans from rebel to national rule, no such thing as a "Public School" for colored children, was found in the schedule of the conquest.

No such thing had ever existed in the Crescent City. Even that portion of the colored population, who, for generations, had been wealthy and free, were allowed no public school, although taxed to support the school-system of the city and State. Occasionally a small donation was made from the public fund to a school for orphans, attached to the Colored Orphans' Asylum.

The children of the free colored people who were in good circumstances, known as "Creoles," generally of French or Spanish extraction, when not educated abroad, or at the North, or from fairness of complexion, by occasional admission to the white schools, were quietly instructed at home, or in a very few private schools, of their class.

Even these, although not contrary to law, were really the ban of opinion, but were tolerated, because of the freedom, wealth, respectability and light color of the parents, many of whom were nearly white, and by blood, sympathy, association, slaveholding, and other interests, were allied to the white rather than to the black.

For the poor, of the free colored people, there was no school.

To teach a slave the dangerous arts of reading and writing, was a heinous offence, having, in the language of the statute, "a tendency to excite insubordination among the servile class, and punishable by imprisonment at hard labor for not more than twenty-one years, or by death, at the discretion of the Court."

In the face of all obstacles, a few of the free colored people, of the poorer class, learned to read and write. Cases of like proficiency were found among the slaves, where some restless bondsman, yearning for the knowledge, that somehow he coupled with liberty, hid himself from public notice, to con over, in secret and laboriously, the magic letters.

In other cases, limited teaching of a slave was connived at, by a master, who might find it convenient for his servant to read.

Occasionally, the slave was instructed by some devout and sympathizing woman or generous man, who secretly violated law and resisted opinion, for the sake of justice and humanity.

A single attempt had been made to afford instruction, through a school, to the poor of the colored people, by Mrs. Mary D.Brice, of Ohio, a student of Antioch College, who, with her husband, both poor in money, came to New Orleans in December, 1858, under a sense of duty, to teach colored people.

So many and great were the obstacles, that Mrs. Brice was unable to begin her school until September, 1860. At that time she opened a "school for colored children and adults," at the corner of Franklin and Perdido streets.

The popular outcry obliged her to close the school in June, 1861.

Subsequently receiving, as she believed, a divine intimation that she would be sustained, Mrs. Brice again opened her school in November following, near the same place; afterwards removing to Magnolia street, on account of room.

Under Confederate rule, she was repeatedly "warned" to desist teaching.

The gate-posts in front of her house were covered at night by placards, threatening "death to nigger teachers."

When forced to suspend her school, Mrs. Brice stole round at night, especially on dark and rainy nights, the more easily to elude observation, to the houses or resorts of her pupils, and there taught the eager learners, under every disability of mutual poverty, often of sore need, in face of imprisonment, banishment, or possible death.

Upon the occupation of the city by our forces, her school was preserved from further molestation, rather by the moral sentiment of the army than by any direct action; for so timid or prejudiced were many of our commanders, that long after that time General Emory sent for the Rev. Thomas Conway, to admonish him not to advocate,

publicly, the opening of schools for colored children, as it would be very dangerous!

The school of Mrs. Brice continued to thrive, and subsequently passed under the Board of Education, in whose employ she is now an efficient and honored Principal.

The advent of the Federal army weakened slavery, and suspended the pains and penalties of its bloody code, and a few private teachers began to appear, in response to the strong desire of the colored people for instruction.


No public schools were established until October, 1863. The great work was fairly begun by the "Commission of Enrollment," created by order of Major General Banks, commanding Department of the Gulf.

In February, 1864, was published General Order No. 23, of Gen. Banks, known as the "Labor Order." That order bridged the chasm between the old and the new. By it the laborer, although a slave, was permitted to choose his employer. The governing power was shifted from the planter to the Provost Marshal.

In addition to food, clothing, quarters, fuel, medical attendance and wages, instruction for his children was promised the colored man by the Government. ....


It is scarcely possible to exaggerate the difficulty of establishing these schools in the country parishes.

Considering the expense and the probability of change in the school districts, the Board decided not to build school-houses at present, but to avail themselves of such accommodations as could be found.

The parish Provost Marshals were directed to seize and turn over to the Board all buildings designated by our agents as essential to the schools, taking care not to incommode or irritate any one, beyond the necessities of the case.

Any hesitancy to act, or indifference on the part of the Marshals, was met forthwith by the Provost Marshal General in the shape of a peremptory order, or by the prompt removal of the refractory subordinate. By this means the first obstacles were overcome. Had the Board received from the same office a continuance of the active interest in these schools manifested by General Bowen during his incumbency, we should have had, at this time, at least three thousand additional pupils.

Cabins, sheds, unused houses, were appropriated, roughly repaired, fitted with a cheap stove for the winter, a window or two for light and air a teacher sent to the locality, the neighboring children gathered in, and the school started.

In some of the parishes, so great was the difficulty of obtaining boarding places for our teachers--notwithstanding the efforts of agents and Provost Marshals--that a special order or circular letter was published, (see Appendix D,) by which many of the teachers were provided with temporary homes. But it frequently occurs, that in a desirable locality for a school, it is impossible to obtain boarding for the teachers. In such cases, a weather-proof shelter of some kind--very poor at best--is obtained, some simple furniture provided, and a teacher sent who is willing to undergo the privations--often hardships-of boarding herself, in addition to the fatigues of her school,

Compelled to live on the coarsest diet of corn bread and bacon; often no tea, coffee, butter, eggs, or flour; separated by miles of bad

roads from the nearest provision store; refused credit because she is a negro teacher, unable to pay cash because the Government is unavoidably in arrears; subjected to the jeers and hatred of her neighbors; cut off from society, with unfrequent and irregular mails; swamped in mud--the school shed a drip, and her quarters little better; raided occasionally by rebels, her school broken up and herself insulted, banished, or run off to rebeldom; under all this, it is really surprising how some of these brave women manage to live, much more how they are able to render the service they do as teachers.

Despite all the efforts of our agents, the assistance of the Provost Marshals, and the devotion of the teachers, many of these schools would have to be abandoned but for the freedmen themselves. These, fully alive to all that is being done for them, gratefully aid the teachers from their small store, and mount guard against the enemy of the schools, whether he be a rebel, a guerilla, or a pro-slavery professed unionist skulking behind the oath.

Excerpt from "What Became of the Slaves on a Georgia Plantation?" (1859)

What became of the slaves on a Georgia plantation?:
Great auction sale of slaves, at Savannah, Georgia, March 2d & 3d, 1859. A sequel to Mrs. Kemble's Journal.

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{Begin handwritten} Life in the Southern States {End handwritten}

{Begin handwritten} by Price M. Butler {End handwritten}
MARCH 2d 3d, 1859.
{Begin handwritten} Savannah, Ga. {End handwritten}


The largest sale of human chattels that has been made in Star-Spangled America for several years, took place on Wednesday and Thursday of last week, at the Race-course near the City of Savannah, Georgia. The lot consisted of four hundred and thirty-six men, women, children and infants, being that half of the negro stock remaining on the old Major Butler plantations which fell to one of the two heirs to that estate. Major Butler, dying, left a property valued at more than a million of dollars, the major part of which was invested in rice and cotton plantations, and the slaves thereon, all of which immense fortune descended to two heirs, his sons, Mr. John A. Butler, sometime deceased, and Mr. Pierce M. Butler, still living, and resident in the City of Philadelphia, in the free State of Pennsylvania.

Losses in the great crash of 1857-8, and other exigencies of business, have compelled the latter gentleman to realize on his Southern investments, that he may satisfy his pressing creditors. This necessity led to a partition of the negro stock on the Georgia plantations, between himself and the representative of the other heir, the widow of the late John A. Butler, and the negroes that were brought to the hammer last week were the property of Mr. Pierce M. Butler, of Philadelphia, and were in fact sold to pay Mr. Pierce M. Butler's debts. The creditors were represented by Gen. Cadwalader, while Mr. Butler was present in person, attended by his business agent, to attend to his own interests.

The sale had been advertised largely for many weeks, though the name of Mr. Butler was not mentioned; and as the negroes were known to be a choice lot and very desirable property, the attendance of buyers was large. The breaking up of an old family estate is so uncommon an occurrence that the affair was regarded with unusual interest throughout the South. For several days before the sale every hotel in Savannah was crowded with negro speculators from North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Louisiana, who had been attracted hither by the prospects of making good bargains.

Nothing was heard for days, in the bar-rooms and public rooms, but talk of the great sale; criticisms of the business affairs of Mr. Butler, and speculations as to the probable prices the stock would bring. The office of Joseph Bryan, the Negro Broker, who had the management of the sale, was thronged every day by eager inquirers in search of information, and by some who were anxious to buy, but were uncertain as to whether their securities would prove acceptable. Little parties were made up from the various hotels every day to visit the Race-course, distant

some three miles from the city, to look over the chattels, discuss their points, and make memoranda for guidance on the day of sale. The buyers were generally of a rough breed, slangy, profane and bearish, being for the most part from the back river and swamp plantations, where the elegancies of polite life are not, perhaps, developed to their fullest extent. In fact, the humanities are sadly neglected by the petty tyrants of the rice-fields that border the great Dismal Swamp, their knowledge of the luxuries of our best society comprehending only revolvers and kindred delicacies. ...


The negroes came from two plantations, the one a rice plantation near Darien, in the State of Georgia, not far from the great Okefonokee Swamp, and the other a cotton plantation on the extreme northern point of St. Simon's Island, a little bit of an island in the Atlantic, cut off from Georgia mainland by a slender arm of the sea. Though the most of the steek had been accustomed only to rice and cotton planting, there were among them a number of very passable mechanics, who had been taught to do all the rougher sorts of mechanical work on the plantations. There were coopers, carpenters, shoemakers and blacksmiths, each one equal, in his various craft, to the ordinary requirements of a plantation; thus, the coopers could make rice-tierces, and possibly, on a pinch, rude tubs and buckets; the carpenter could do the rough carpentry about the negro-quarters; the shoemaker could make shoes of the fashion required for the slaves, and the blacksmith was adequate to the

manufacture of hoes and similar simple tools, and to such trifling repairs in the blacksmithing way as did not require too refined a skill. Though probably no one of all these would be called a superior, or even an average workman, among the masters of the craft, their knowledge of these various trades sold in some cases for nearly as much as the man--that is, a man without a trade, who would be valued at $900, would readily bring $1,600 or $1,700 if he was a passable blacksmith or cooper. ...

... None of the Butler slaves have ever been sold before, but have been on these two plantations since they were born. Here have they lived their humble lives, and loved their simple loves; here were they born, and here have many of them had children born unto them; here had their parents lived before them, and are now resting in quiet graves on the old plantations that these unhappy ones are to see no more forever; here they left not only the well-known scenes dear to them from very baby-hood by a thousand fond memories, and homes as much loved by them, perhaps, as brighter homes by men of brighter faces; but all the clinging ties that bound them to living hearts were torn asunder, for but one-half of each of these two happy little communities was sent to the shambles, to be scattered to the four winds, and the other half was left behind. And who can tell how closely intertwined are the affections of a little band of four hundred persons, living isolated from all the world beside, from birth to middle age? Do they not naturally become one great family, each man a brother unto each?

It is true they were sold "in families," but let us see: a man and his wife were called a "family," their parents and kindred were not taken into account; the man and wife might be sold to the pine woods of North Carolina, their brothers and sisters be scattered through the cotton fields of Alabama and rice swamps of Louisiana, while the parents might be left on the old plantation to wear out their weary lives in grief, and lay their heads in far-off graves, over which their children might never weep. And

no account could be taken of loves that were as yet unconsummated by marriage; and how many aching hearts have been divorced by this summary proceeding no man can ever know. And the separation is as utter, and is infinitely more hopeless, than that made by the Angel of Death, for then the loved ones are committed to the care of a merciful Deity; but in the other instance, to the tender mercies of a slave-trade. These dark-skinned unfortunates are perfectly unlettered, and could not communicate by writing even if they should know where to send their missives. And so to each other, and to the old familiar places of their youth, clung all their sympathies and affections, not less strong, perhaps, because they are so few. The blades of grass on all the Butler estates are outnumbered by the tears that are poured out in agony at the wreck that has been wrought in happy homes, and the crushing grief that has been laid on loving hearts.

But, then, what business have "niggers" with tears? Besides, didn't Pierce Butler give them a silver dollar a-piece? which will appear in the sequel. And, sad as it is, it was all necessary, because a gentleman was not able to live on the beggarly pittance of half a million, and so must needs enter into speculations which turned out adversely.


The negroes were brought to Savannah in small lots, as many at a time as could be conveniently taken care of, the last of them reaching the city the Friday before the sale. They were consigned to the care of Mr. J. Bryan, Auctioneer and Negro Broker, who was to feed and keep them in condition until disposed of. Immediately on their arrival they were taken to the Race-course, and there quartered in the sheds erected for the accommodation of the horses and carriages of gentlemen attending the races. Into these sheds they were huddled pell-mell, without any more attention to their comfort than was necessary to prevent their becoming ill and unsaleable. Each "family" had one or more boxes or bundles, in which were stowed such scanty articles of their clothing as were not brought into immediate requisition, and their tin dishes and gourds for their food and drink.

...In these sheds were the chattels huddled together on the floor,

there being no sign of bench or table. They eat and slept on the bare boards, their food being rice and beans, with occasionally a bit of bacon and corn bread. Their huge bundles were scattered over the floor, and thereon the slaves sat or reclined, when not restlessly moving about, or gathered into sorrowful groups, discussing the chances of their future fate. On the faces of all was an expression of heavy grief; some appeared to be resigned to the hard stroke of Fortune that had torn them from their homes, and were sadly trying to make the best of it; some sat brooding moodily over their sorrows, their chins resting on their hands, their eyes staring vacantly, and their bodies rocking to and fro, with a restless motion that was never stilled; few wept, the place was too public and the drivers too near, though some occasionally turned aside to give way to a few quiet tears. They were dressed in every possible variety of uncouth and fantastic garb, in every style and of every imaginable color; the texture of the garments was in all cases coarse, most of the men being clothed in the rough cloth that is made expressly for the slaves. The dresses assumed by the negro minstrels, when they give imitations of plantation character, are by no means exaggerated; they are, instead, weak and unable to come up to the original.

There was every variety of hats, with every imaginable slouch; and there was every cut and style of coat and pantaloons, made with every conceivable ingenuity of misfit, and tossed on with a general appearance of perfect looseness that is perfectly indescribable, except to say that a Southern negro always looks as if he could shake his clothes off without taking his hands out of his pockets. The women, true to the feminine instinct, had made, in almost every case, some attempt at finery. All wore gorgeous turbans, generally manufactured in an instant out of a gay-colored handkerchief by a sudden and graceful twist of the fingers; though there was occasionally a more elaborate turban, a turban complex and mysterious, got up with care, and ornamented with a few beads or bright bits of ribbon. Their dresses were mostly coarse stuff, though there were some gaudy calicoes; a few had ear-rings, and one possessed the treasure of a string of yellow and blue beads. The little children were always better and more carefully dressed than the older ones, the parental pride coming out in the shape of a yellow cap pointed like a mitre, or a jacket with a strip of red broadcloth round the bottom. The children were of all sizes, the youngest being fifteen days old. The babies were generally good-natured; though when one would set up a yell, the complaint soon attacked the others, and a full chorus would be the result.

The slaves remained at the Race-course, some of them for more than a week, and all of them for four days before the sale. They were brought in thus early that buyers who desired to inspect them might enjoy that privilege, although none of them were sold at private sale. For these preliminary days their shed was constantly

visited by speculators. The negroes were examined with as little consideration as if they had been brutes indeed; the buyers pulling their mouths open to see their teeth, pinching their limbs to find how muscular they were, walking them up and down to detect any signs of lameness, making them stoop and bend in different ways that they might be certain there was no concealed rupture or wound; and in addition to all this treatment, asking them scores of questions relative to their qualifications and accomplishments. All these humiliations were submitted to without a murmur, and in some instances with good-natured cheerfulness--where the slave liked the appearance of the proposed buyer, and fancied that he might prove a kind "Mas'r." ...


... The negroes looked more uncomfortable than ever; the close confinement in-doors for a number of days, and the drizzly, unpleasant weather, began to tell on their condition. They moved about more listlessly, and were fast losing the activity and springiness they had at first shown. This morning they were all gathered into the long room of the building erected as the "Grand Stand" of the Race-course, that they might be immediately under the eye of the buyers. The room was about a hundred feet long by twenty wide, and herein were crowded the poor creatures, with much of their baggage, awaiting their respective calls to step upon the block and be sold to the highest bidder. This morning Mr. Pierce Butler appeared among his people, speaking to each one, and being recognized with seeming pleasure by all. The men obsequiously pulled off their hats and made that indescribable sliding hitch with the foot which passes with a negro for a bow; and the women each dropped the quick curtsy, which they seldom vouchsafe to any other than their legitimate master and mistress. Occasionally, to a very old or favorite servant, Mr. Butler would extend his gloved hand, which mark of condescension was instantly hailed with grins of delight from all the sable witnesses.

... Mr. Walsh mounted the stand and announced the terms of the sale, "one-third cash, the remainder payable in two equal annual instalments, bearing interest from the day of sale, to be secured by approved mortgage and personal security, or approved acceptances in Savannah, Ga., or Charleston, S. C. Purchasers to pay for papers." The buyers, who were present to the number of about two hundred, clustered around the platform; while the negroes, who were not likely to be immediately wanted, gathered into sad groups in the back-ground, to watch the progress of the selling in which they were so sorrowfully interested. The wind howled outside, and through the open side of the building the driving rain came pouring in; the bar down stairs ceased for a short time its brisk trade; the buyers lit fresh cigars, got ready their catalogues and pencils, and the first lot of human chattels was led upon the stand, not by a white man, but by a sleek mulatto, himself a slave, and who seems to regard the selling of his brethren, in which he so glibly assists, as a capital joke. It had been announced that the negroes would be sold in "families," that is to say, a man would not be parted from his wife, or a mother from a very young child. There is perhaps as much policy as humanity in this arrangement, for thereby many aged and unserviceable people are disposed of, who otherwise would not find a ready sale. ...

... It seems as if every shade of character capable of being implicated in the sale of human flesh and blood was represented among the buyers. There was the Georgia fast young man, with his pantaloons tucked into his boots, his velvet cap jauntily dragged over to one side, his cheek full of tobacco, which he bites from a huge plug, that resembles more than anything else an old bit of a rusty wagon tire, and who is altogether an animal of quite a different breed from your New York fast man. His ready revolver, or his convenient knife, is ready for instant use in case of heated argument. White-neck-clothed, gold-spectacled, and silver-haired old men were there, resembling in appearance that noxious breed of sanctimonious deacons we have at the North, who are perpetually leaving documents at your door that you never read, and the business of whose mendicant life it is to eternally solicit subscriptions for charitable associations, of which they are treasurers. These gentry, with quiet step and subdued voice, moved carefully about among the live stock, ignoring, as a general rule, the men, but tormenting the women with questions which, when accidentally overheard by the disinterested spectator, bred in that spectator's mind an almost irresistible desire to knock somebody down.

And then, all imaginable varieties of rough, backwoods rowdies, who began the day in a spirited manner, but who, as its hours progressed, and their practice at the bar became more prolific in results, waxed louder and talkier and more violent, were present, and added a characteristic feature to the assemblage. Those of your readers who have read "Uncle Tom,"--and who has not?--will remember, with peculiar feelings, Legree, the slave-driver and woman-whipper. That that character is not been overdrawn, or too highly colored, there is abundant testimony. Witness the subjoined dialogue: A party of men were conversing on the fruitful subject of managing refractory "niggers;" some were for severe whipping, some recommending branding, one or two advocated other modes of torture, but one huge brute of a man, who had not taken an active part in the discussion, save to assent, with approving nod, to any unusually barbarous proposition, at last broke his silence by saying, in an oracular way, "You may say what you like about managing niggers; I'm a driver myself, and I've had some experience, and I ought to know. You can manage ordinary niggers by lickin' 'em, and givin' 'em a taste of the hot iron once in awhile when they're extra ugly; but if a nigger really sets himself up against me, I can't never have any patience with him. I just get my pistol and shoot him right down; and that's the best way." ...

...The expression on the faces of all who stepped on the block was always the same, and told of more anguish than it is in the power of words to express. Blighted homes, crushed hopes and broken hearts, was the sad story to be read in all the anxious faces. Some of them regarded the sale with perfect indifference, never making a motion, save to turn from one side to the other at the word of the dapper Mr. Bryan, that all the crowd might have a fair view of their proportions, and then, when the sale was accomplished, stepped down from the block without caring to cast even a look at the buyer, who now held all their happiness in his hands. Others, again, strained their eyes with eager glances from one buyer to another as the bidding went on, trying with earnest attention to follow the rapid voice of the auctioneer. Sometimes, two persons only would be bidding for the same chattel, all the others having resigned the contest, and then the poor creature on the block, conceiving an instantaneous preference for one of the buyers over the other, would regard the rivalry with the intensest interest, the expression of his face changing with every bid, settling into a half smile of joy if the favorite buyer persevered unto the end and secured the property, and settling down into a look of hopeless despair if the other won the victory. ...

... Many other babies, of all ages of baby-hood, were sold, but there was nothing particularly interesting about them. There were some thirty babies in the lot; they are esteemed worth to the master a

hundred dollars the day they are born, and to increase in value at the rate of a hundred dollars a year till they are sixteen or seventeen years old, at which age they bring the best prices. ...

... The highest price paid for a single man was $1,750, which was given for William, a "fair carpenter and caulker."

The highest price paid for a woman was $1,250, which was given for Jane, "cotton hand and house servant."

The lowest price paid was for Anson and Violet, a gray-haired couple, each having numbered more than fifty years; they brought but $250 a piece. ...

...And now come the scenes of the last partings--of the final separations of those who were akin, or who had been such dear friends from youth that no ties of kindred could bind them closer--of those who were all in all to each other, and for whose bleeding hearts there shall be no earthly comfort--the parting of parents and children, of brother from brother, and the rending of sister from a sister's bosom; and O! hardest, cruellest of all, the tearing asunder of loving hearts, wedded in all save the one ceremony of the Church-these scenes pass all description; it is not meet for pen to meddle with tears so holy.

As the last family stepped down the block, the rain ceased, for the first time in four days the clouds broke away, and the soft sunlight fell on the scene. The unhappy slaves had many of them been already removed, and others were now departing with their new masters. ...

Excerpt from "My Ups and Downs," an interview with Kert Shorrow" (1939)

[My Ups and Downs]

The complete interview is available.


Written By: Mrs. Ina B. Hawkes

Research Field Worker, Georgia Writers' Project, Athens -

Edited By: Mrs. Maggie B. Freeman

Editor, Georgia Writers' Project, Athens - WPA Area -6

October 9, 1939

September 14, 1939

[Kert Shorrow?] (Negro)

Route # 1, Athens, Georgia

Mrs. Ina B. Hawkes


It was just a small Negro shanty, just off the highway. I went up to the front door. I noticed it was open, but I found the screen door shut and latched.

I came back down off the porch and walked around the house. I saw an old Negro woman coming down a little grassy lane. I walked up to meet her. She looked a little tired. She had a white cotton sack on her back where she had been picking cotton and a big sun hat on. She looked up and appeared very much surprised to see me.

"Good morning, Aunty. Do you live here?" She said, "Good morning, Miss. Yes, man, I lives here. I aint been here so long though. Is der something I can do for yo?"

I told her that I wanted to talk to her a little while if she had time. She said, "Yes'um, but you see I don't want to be [empolite?] cause I won't raised dat way. But if you will come in I will talk to you while

I fix a little dinner. I works in the field all I can."

About that time I saw a small boy coming around the house with his cotton sack.

"My name is [Sadie?]," she said, "and dis is my great grandson here. I'se got seventeen chillun, Honey."

"How did you manage with so many children, Aunty?" I asked. "By the help of the Lawd. We didn't have much, but you know what the old frog said when he went to the pond and found jus a little water, don't you? Well, he said, "A little is better than none.' Dat's de way I all'ers felt about things.

"I was born and raised in Walton County. But dey is done changed things back over der so much. I was over der to see my daughter while back and, Lawdy mussy, chile, dey is done built a new bridge ah didn't know nothing about.

"Here, Sammy, make mama a fire in de stove while I gits a few things ready to cook."

The little boy had a kerosine lamp over the blaze and, before I could stop myself, I had yelled at him to get it away from that blaze. Aunt Sadie said, "Dat's right, Miss. Correct him. Chillun des days don't see no danger in nothing.

"Back in my day as far back as I can remember

my mother and father was [Marse?] Holt and Mistess Holt's slaves. 'Case we chilluns wus too, but slavery times wus over fo I wus big nuf to know very much 'bout hit.

"But I do know about [Marse?] Holt and Mistess Holt. Lawd, child, dey wus de best people in de world I do think. Ole Mistess use to make us go to bed early. She would feed us out under a walnut tree. She wouldn't let us eat lak chilluns do now. We would have milk and bread, and dey would always save pot liquor left over from the vegetables. They put corn bread in it. We little Niggers sho' injoyed hit though. Sometimes we would get syrup and bread and now and then a biscuit.

"[Marse?] and Mistess died, but Ma and Pa and we chillun just stayed on and waked hard. Pa and Ma both wus good farmers. But, Honey, talk 'bout slavery times, hit's mor lak slavery times now with chillun dan it wus den. 'Cause us didn't have to go to de fields til we wus good size chillun. Now de poor things has to go time dey is big nuf to walk and tote a cotton sack.

"Miss Ruth is [Marse?] and Mistess Holt's daughter. I wus fortunate to know Miss Ruth. She larnt me to say my A B C's. If I didn't know them or say them fast nuf she would slap me and make me do hit right". She got up and went over to an old washstand and got an old blue

back speller. "Here," she said, "look at dis and you will see whut she taught me wid. You can see why I loves dat book. I don't let nobody bother wid dat.

"I sits and looks at my little book lots of times and think of dem good old days. I went to regular school two months in my life.

"I thought I wus grown when I hopped up and married."

..."My life, Honey, is jus been ups and downs. Me and

pa and the chilluns always jus had to stay home and work 'cept on Saddays. We would always go to town and church on Sundays. We would fix a big box of oats and get up soon Sadday morning, and Tom and the boys would hitch up old Buck to the cart. Yes, dat old ox wus jus as fast as anybody's mule. He would take us to town and bring us back safe.

"I never will forget one Sadday we wus in town. It wus a treat to jus go to town for us, the lights wus so pretty, but coming home dat day a man stopped us. Me and Tom had most of the chilluns with us. He said he wanted to take our pictures, so he could save it and show it ot his grandchilluns.

"We jus sold old Buck in 1934. He wus gitting old and couldn't plow and git 'bout lak he used too. And we needed a mule too.

"Lawdy, dere's Tom now. He come in the back door, a little man not much older looking than I is."....

Excerpt from "Mrs. Lulu Bowers II," an interview with Mrs. Lulu Bowers (1938)

[Mrs. Lula Bowers, II]

The complete interview is available.

{Begin handwritten} Beliefs Customs - Customs {End handwritten}

Accession no. - 10160

Date received - 10/10/40

Consignment no.

Shipped from Wash. Off.


Amount - 4p.



Folklore Collection (or Type)

Title Social Customs. Mrs. Lula Bowers II

Place of origin Hampton Co., S. Car. Date 6-28-38

Project worker Phoebe Faucette

Project editor


{Begin deleted text} 8882 {End deleted text}

Project #-1655

Phoebe Faucette

Hampton County {Begin handwritten} [?] {End handwritten} {Begin deleted text} 390552 {End deleted text}

Records of the Past


Mrs. Lula Bowers {Begin handwritten}, II {End handwritten}

...."There is a great change in the men and women, too, from what it used to be. It used to be that the men tended to all the business. Now most all the business is tended to by the women!

I remember the first woman free dealer. She was Mr. Ned Morrison's grandmother. She was the first free-dealer I ever heard of. Her husband was an excellent man but no business man. He had a large farm to manage after the war, with free labor. He'd get so mad with the negroes that he'd just let them go, and give up. So she had to take charge. She went to the courthouse and got an appointment. She was the only woman I know that got an appointment to run her own farm. Now women run their farms if they want to.

"The churches and schools wasn't much. They got free-schools for three months then. Now they get it for nine.

"The roads weren't good either like they are now. And it was so hard to get anybody to work on the roads. Each farmer had to send a certain amount of hands to work the roads, and someone had to oversee the work. My father was generally the one.

"In slavery time we had three slave quarters - ten houses in each quarter. The houses were kept nice, kept clean. And there was one special house where they kept the children and a nurse. The houses were log-houses, and they didn't have any windows more than ten or twelve inches square. And they had shutters, not sash. The hinges for the shutters were made in the blacksmith shop. They wouldn't have but two rooms. Very often they wouldn't have lumber enough to put in the partition, and would have to hang up sheets between the rooms.

They'd ceil them with clapboards from the woods. Their furniture was just anything that they could get - little stools, and little benches, and just anything. They'd use the back of their old dresses for quilts.

"The clothes of the slaves were spun at home and made by their mistresses. The'd weave them white, then dye the cloth. They'd go in the woods and get bark and dye them.

"The slaves had bread and hominy, and what little meat they could get hold of now and then. There were a lot of cattle in this country. And they raised a lot of geese, and guineas, and such like. Most of the slaves were doctored by their owners. Dr. Nathan A. Johnston was the first doctor I knew anything about. They'd rake soot off the back of the chimney and make a tea out of it for the colic. Called it soot-tea. I've seen my grandmother do it a many a time! The slaves didn't have any education in that day. They'd have Sunday Schools for the white people and for the slaves. The old people would write down what the children had to say. They had no books then, and paper was so scarce they sometimes had to use paste-board. When the slaves wanted to go off on a visit they were given tickets, and allowed to go for just so many hours.

"After the war, military rule was oppressive for a while; but they got so they dropped that. There was much lawlessness. There was no law at all, and they couldn't manage the negroes at all. There was a man that came from Beaufort named Wright, and he controlled them. He was a northerner but he was a

good man. He and his wife came. They stayed in three different homes when they were here. Only three homes would take those people in! One of them was a relative of mine. She said one night Mrs. Wright said she would make a pudding for them all - what she called Hasty Pudding. So my aunt got out the sugar, and eggs and seasonings for her; but the 'Pudding' proved to be just Fried Hominy - cold hominy sliced and rolled in egg and flour and fried. They had a son and a daughter. After a while they came, too,"

Source: Mrs. Lula Bowers, 79, Luray, S. C.

(Second interview.)

Excerpt from "E.W. Evans, Brick Layer & Plasterer," an interview with E.W. Evans (undated)

[E. W. Evans, Brick Layer & Plasterer]

The complete interview is available.

E. W. Evans (Negro)

610 Parsons Street, S.W.

Brick Layer Plasterer

by Geneva Tonsill

"My parents were slaves on the plantation of John H. Hill, a slave owner in Madison, Georgia. I wuz born on May 21, 1855. I wuz owned and kept by J. H. Hill until just befo' surrender. I wuz a small boy when Sherman left here at the fall of Atlanta. He come through Madison on his march to the sea and we chillun hung out on the front fence from early morning 'til late in the evening, watching the soldiers go by. It took most of the day.

"My master wuz a Senator from Georgia, 'lected on the Whig ticket. He served two terms in Washington as Senator. His wife, our mistress, had charge of the slaves and plantation. She never seemed to like the idea of having slaves. Of course, I never heard her say she didn't want them but she wuz the one to free the slaves on the place befo' surrender. Since that I've felt she didn't want them in the first place....

The next week after Sherman passed through Madison, Miss Emily called the five ... wimmen ... women ... that wuz on the place and tole them to stay 'round the house and attend to things as they had always done until their husbands come back. She said they were free and could go wherever they wanted to. See ... she decided this befo surrender and tole them they could keep up just as befo' until their husbands could look after a place for them to stay. She meant that they could rent from her if they wanted to. In that number of ... wimmen ... women ... wuz my mother, Ellen, who worked as a seamstress for Mrs. Hill. The other ... wimmen ... women ... wuz aunt Lizzie and aunt Dinah, the washer- ...wimmen ... women ... , aunt Liza ... a seamstress to help my mother, and aunt Caroline ... the nurse for Miss Emily's chilluns.

"I never worked as a slave because I wuzn't ole 'nough. In 1864, when I wuz about nine years ole they sent me on a trial visit to the plantation to give me an idea of what I had to do some day.

{Begin page no. 2}

The place I'm talkin' about, when I wuz sent for the tryout, wuz on the outskirts of town. It wuz a house where they sent chilluns out ole 'nough to work for a sort of trainin'. I guess you'd call it the trainin' period. When the chilluns wuz near ten years ole they had this week's trial to get them used to the work they'd have to do when they reached ten years. At the age of ten years they wuz then sent to the field to work. They'd chop, hoe, pick cotton ... and pull fodder, corn, or anything else to be done on the plantation. I stayed at the place a whole week and wuz brought home on Saturday. That week's work showed me what I wuz to do when I wuz ten years ole. Well, this wuz just befo Sherman's march from Atlanta to the sea and I never got a chance to go to the plantation to work agin, for Miss Emily freed all on her place and soon after that we wuz emancipated.

"The soldiers I mentioned while ago that passed with Sherman carried provisions, hams, shoulders, meal, flour ... and other food. They had their cooks and other servants. I 'member seeing a woman in that crowd of servants. She had a baby in her arms. She hollered at us Chillun and said, 'You chilluns git off dat fence and go learn yore ABC's.' I thought she wuz crazy telling us that ... for we had never been 'lowed to learn nothing at all like reading a writing. I learned but it wuz after surrender and I wuz over tens years ole.

"It wuz soon after the soldiers passed with Sherman that Miss Emily called in all the ... wimmen ... women ... servants and told them they could take their chillun ... to the cabin and stay there until after the war. My father, George, had gone with Josh Hill, a son of Miss Emily's to wait on him. She told my mother to take us to that cabin until a place could be made for us.

{Begin page no. 3}

"I said I wuz born a slave but I wuz too young to know much about slavery. I wuz the property of the Hill family from 1855 to 1865, when freedom wuz declared and they said we wuz free....