Slavery at White Haven Activity

Instructions: Read each passage and answer the questions below.
Orange and red book cover of The Personal Memoirs of Julia Dent Grant (Mrs. Ulysses S. Grant)

As an older woman, Julia wrote her memoirs and remembered fondly her childhood experiences growing up in the country at White Haven. Her closest friends and companions were her siblings and the enslaved African American children, close to her age and owned by her father. Julia described them as "my little maids, servants and her 'dusky train.' "Dusky" was the way she described their dark skin color.

The enslaved people were considered inferior to the people living at White Haven. They lived at White Haven but were not free like Julia and her brothers and sisters. They were not allowed to leave White Haven and had no choice in choosing their friends or playmates.

1. Who are some of your friends?

2. How do you make and choose friends?

Photo of a small creek surrounded by snow and bare trees

Julia and the other children spent much of their time playing outdoors. There was much to do and explore on a large farm with forests, fields, streams and wildlife of all kind. Julia remembered fondly when she and her enslaved playmates would go down to the creek and catch minnows with pin hooks. Julia would later write of her experiences with her enslaved playmates, " we always had a dusky train of eight to ten little colored girls of all hues, and these little colored girls were allowed to accompany us if they were very neat." Julia also recounts in her story that while she would catch the minnows, she "required these little maids to each carry a bucket to bring home my captives."

3. Where do you like to play? (You can draw a picture of your favorite place.)

4. When you are playing with your friends, how do you decide what to play?

5. In this story about Julia, who do you think made the decision about what to do? Why do you think that?

6. Do you think this was a fair friendship? Why or why not?

7. If one of your friend(s) "required" or ordered you to do something in order for you to play with them, how would that make you feel?

Black and white photo of an enslaved Africa-American family seated in front of cabin
Enslaved family at the Gains' house in Hanover County, Virginia

Library of Congress

When they were old enough, Julia and her brothers and sisters were able to go to school. While Julia and her brothers and sisters went to school her enslaved playmates were forbidden by law to go to school or to learn to read and write.

Julia remembers coming home to White Haven after being away at school and remarking on the changes in her former playmates. "my dusky train (enslaved playmates) …were now much grown having the dignity of white aprons and with gay bandannas bound around their heads…”

8. What is an apron? (You can draw a picture of an apron here.)

Why do you think the enslaved were wearing aprons?

9. How had their lives changed while Julia was away at school?

10. What differences do you notice between the lives of Julia and those
enslaved who were her same age?

Part of a series of articles titled Ulysses S. Grant NHS Virtual Junior Ranger Activity Book.

Ulysses S Grant National Historic Site

Last updated: April 15, 2020