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1850's: Two Faces of Slavery

© J. Weston Walch, Publisher.


Skills: Comprehension, thinking, writing.

Objectives: Students examine the rationalizations of proslavery speakers and the realities of what enslavement meant.

Project: Written newspaper story.

Suggested Group Roles: Reader, recorder.

Suggested Group Size: Two students in each group.

Materials Needed: Two Faces of Slavery handout; notebook paper and pens.

Procedure: Distribute handout and discuss with students. Form groups and have students work as directed in the handout. If you wish, completed articles can be combined and published in a special slavery news sheet.

Evaluation: Grade on completeness and clarity.


  1. Form students into groups of four. Give students the Lowell Mills handout as well as this one. Two students in each group should take one side of the slavery issue and debate whether or not slaves are better off than paid workers in a factory.

  2. Although slaves were kept from learning to write, no laws could keep them from expressing themselves. Many powerful songs about the slave experience were created by slaves. Have students create an antislavery song based on John Jackson's description of his life as a slave. If students wish, they can set their words to the music of an existing song.

1850's: Two Faces of Slavery

People who were in favor of slavery said they were really only helping the people they enslaved. In 1835, the governor of South Carolina described the life of slaves in these words:

"There is not upon the face of the earth any class of people, high or low, so perfectly free from care and anxiety . . . .Our slaves are cheerful, contented, and happy, [unlike] the general condition of the human race."

John Jackson, a former slave, described his life this way:

My younger days were happy ones. I played with the massa's children until I became seven or eight years old, then I had to go into the field with the other black folks and work hard all day from earliest dawn till late at night. We ate twice a day, that is, when we got up in the morning we were driven out into the fields and were called into breakfast at noon by the blast of an old tin horn.

All we got to eat then was three corn cake dumplins and one plate of soup. No meat unless there happened to be a rotten piece in the smoke house. This would be given to us to make our soup. Why the dogs got better eating than we poor colored folks. We would go out into the fields again and work very hard until dark, when we were driven in by the crack of the overseers lash and frequently that crack meant blood from some unfortunate creatures back, who, becoming weary, had shown signs of faltering.

Use these two excerpts to write a newspaper article on slavery. Include the proslavery arguments. Then use material from John Jackson's narrative to challenge them.

The publisher grants to individual purchasers of this book the right to make sufficient copies of reproducible pages for use by all students of a single teacher. This permission is limited to a single teacher, and does not apply to entire schools or school systems, so institutions purchasing the book should pass the permission on to a single teacher. Copying of the book or its parts for resale is prohibited.