The activities in this lesson will give the students an opportunity to use primary source materials to piece together a picture of what life was like for those living in bondage on the Mount Welby Plantation in the early 1800s. Students will use a runaway slave ad, certificates of freedom, and census records to begin their exploration of 19th century slavery at Mount Welby. Students will then be asked to look at the African traditions of the enslaved people in a broader context by examining slave narratives and other oral histories.
Given their English abolitionist heritage, the DeButts family's choice to own slaves was filled with contradictions; as residents and citizens of America, the DeButts family became slave owners for the first time and owned slaves at Mount Welby and their other Maryland residences. Primary sources allow us to piece together a detailed account of what life was like for the DeButts family at Mount Welby. The story is not the same for the enslaved that lived and worked on the property. Primary sources information is scant and what has been recorded is from the perspective of white society. Presently, no first-hand accounts of those living in bondage on the Mount Welby plantation have been uncovered. Their voices are still unheard.Slavery at Mount Welby
Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives
1. Take a look at the runaway ad submitted by Samuel Debutts to the Baltimore Telegraph Daily Advertiser in 1805.
2. Read through the ad and jot down anything that you find interesting.
The Story of John and Nelly Ganer
John and Nelly Ganer were born into slavery and raised on the Mount Welby plantation. Their grandfather, Thomas Moore, manumitted Nelly and John in his will. To manumit someone is to legally free them from slavery. After the death of Mr. Moore, a Certificate of Freedom was issued to John and Nelly Ganer A freed slave had to carry their Certificate of Freedom and prove their identity through a Confirmation of Identity by Oath. The Certificate of Freedom was numbered, registered, and issued by the courts. They were called "Free Papers" and it gave the name, stature, and complexion of the carrier. The papers indicated how the freedom was obtained. Free papers had to be renewed.
Students will recognize that manumission was a legal act and that pertinent court documents can be analyzed and interpreted in order to make inferences about manumissions. After completing the lesson the student will be able to;
Below are two documents associated with the manumission of John Ganer. Read both documents.
Granting of Certificate of Freedom, original
Granting of Certificate of Freedom, transcribed
Confirmation of Identity by Oath of John Ganer, original
Confirmation of Identity by Oath of John Ganer, transcribed
Courtesy of The Maryland State Archives
1.Read the documents and take notes while reading. You can use the charts below to organize your thoughts. As you read, jot down things that pertain to each topic in the chart.
Chart 1, Granting of Certificate of Freedom.
Chart 2, Confirmation of Identity Oath of John Ganer
2. List at least two things that are similar about these documents.
3. List at least two things that are different about these documents.
4. Break up into groups to discuss the following questions..
The Census, Documents You Can Count On!
The first census of the United States Government was taken in 1790. The census of 1800, 1810, and 1820 provide snapshots of what life was like during this time. By analyzing these records, students will draw conclusions about the family and understand why the census is important. After the lesson is completed the students will be able to:
1. Read the US Census Bureau Fact Sheet:
2. Determine if this document is a primary or secondary source. Support you answer.
3. Explain why the census is important.
4. Look at the census records for 1800, 1810, and 1820.
5. Use this chart to fill in the information for Samuel DeButts for the 1800 and 1810 census. Use John Henry DeButts, Samuel's son, for the 1820 census.
6. Using the information you gathered in the chart answer the following questions:
The Oral Tradition
In many African societies, oral tradition is the method in which the people's history, folktales and religious beliefs are passed down through generations. Webster's dictionary defines "oral" as, "spoken rather than written," and it defines the word "tradition" as, "transmittal of elements of a culture from one generation to another especially by oral communication."
For the African people, oral tradition is linked to their way of life. Most African societies greatly value the oral tradition as their primary means of conveying culture. It is also a mode of transmitting feelings, and attitudes. For centuries, African people depended upon oral tradition to teach important customary values.
The responsibility of passing down the history, lessons, culture, and folktales belonged to the griot. A griot is a chronicler of history - keeping track of the history and developments of his people over time. The griot is also guardian of the knowledge of his people's ancestry, or genealogy. This history may never be written down so the griot is crucial to keeping the records of the past. Griots are also orators, lyricists, and musicians and they train to excel in all three art forms.
African Folktales and American Literature
When Africans were captured and brought through the Middle Passage to the Americas to be enslaved, much was stolen from them. The inhumanity of the Middle Passage and the institution of slavery were designed to strategically weed out the weak and breed a submissive people void of any knowledge of their history and legacy. Fortunately the African spirit was not easily broken and through the horrors of their experiences, by way of oral tradition, enslaved Africans maintained the knowledge of their culture and people. One of the ways they carried on their traditions was through storytelling.
African folk tales were inspiring, entertaining, and educational. Stories about figures such as Anansi the Spider, Brer Rabbit, the Raven, and the Mosquito were passed down from generation to generation. Now we see these stories and countless others like them still alive in today's American literature. Tall tales about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, and Johnny Appleseed were all influenced by the African oral tradition of storytelling.
The student will understand the importance of oral tradition and storytelling in African culture as well as the role, responsibility, and stature the griot held in many West African cultures. After completing the activity the student will be able to:
1. Click on the links to read Anansi and His Six Sons and the Birth of Pecos Bill.
2. After you read the story complete the Venn Diagram, When completing the Venn Diagram make sure to think about story themes and
chronology, and all the other similarities and comparisons you can think of.
Reimagining Slavery at Mount Welby
The institution of slavery did not value enslaved persons or their history. Thus, accurate histories and accounts of slavery were not recorded. However, once free, many Blacks decided to write and publish personal firsthand accounts of their lives as slaves. These accounts are known as slave narratives.
Here at Mount Welby, like most other plantations, there is very little information left that tells about the enslaved Africans who once lived here. However, by piecing together the few primary documents we have with other sources- like slave narratives- we are still able to formulate a general idea of what slavery was like here at Mount. Welby.
The student will understand how oral tradition played a vital role in maintaining the history of enslaved persons through the Middle Passage and slavery. After completing the lesson the student will be able to
1. To analyze and interpret primary documents to form a conclusion of what slavery might have been like here at the Mount. Welby plantation.
Dennis Simms, ex-slave from Prince Georges County, Maryland
A video showing an interpretation of a slave's life at the Mount Welby plantation in the early 1800's.
Read the two excerpts from the narratives of two Africans who were enslaved in southern Maryland and nearby Virginia. View the video interpreting the life of Matilda, a slave at Mount Welby. Then read through the primary documentation (part one, two, and three of this lesson) pertaining to the enslaved who live at Mount Welby. Take what you learned from the slave narratives and primary sources and write a fictional story about an enslaved person here at the Mount Welby plantation. Present the story to your class as if you were a griot passing along the story of an ancestor. Be creative.