Learning About Slavery at Mount Welby Using Primary Source Documents
- African American History and Culture, History, Reading, Slavery, Social Studies
- One hour per lesson
- Group Size:
- Up to 24 (4-8 breakout groups)
- National/State Standards:
- Historical Thinking Standards:
1. Chronological Thinking
2. Historical Comprehension
3. Historical Analysis and Interpretation
4. Historical Research Capabilities
5. Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making
OverviewThe following lesson plan requires students to use primary source documents to investigate history and culture. Students will use primary sources from the early 19th century to engage in historical thinking: to raise questions and to marshal solid evidence in support of their answers; to go beyond the facts presented in their textbooks, and examine the historical record for themselves by using primary documents.
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
An Ad Like No Other
The student will understand runaway slave advertisements and be able to analyze and interpret them while recognizing their historical significance. After completing this lesson the student will be able to:
- Define a runaway slave advertisement and recognize it as a primary source.
- Analyze and interpret the document in order to make broader connections.
- Apply their critical thinking and interpretation skills to decide what research strategy to use for further investigation.
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.
- Is this a primary or secondary source? Explain your answer.
- What does this ad tell you about William?
- What does this ad tell you about Samuel DeButts?
- Who wrote the advertisement
- What does it mean to have plausible manners?
- Do you think the author shows any biases? If so what are they?
- When was the ad written?
- What was William's last name?
- What is your reaction to this document?
- When you read this ad do any questions come to mind? If so, what are they?
- Are William's mother and wife slaves?
- How did Dr. DeButts come to own a slave from Baltimore? Baltimore is about 60 miles north of Mount Welby.
- Mount Welby is noted as Mount Wiley. Why do you think this is?
The ad offers a 20 dollar reward for William. In 1805, was that a lot of money? Was this amount similar to other rewards being offered at the time? Why would someone offer money for the return of a runaway slave? How do we know the answers to these questions? How could you find out more?
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;
- Define manumission.
- Define certificate of freedom.
- Explain why courts were involved in the manumission of people.
- Explain why people were manumitted in wills.
- Explain the importance of family members purchasing the freedom of other family members for manumission.
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..
- Where was John Ganer born?
- What was his relationship to Thomas Moore?
- How did Thomas Moore come to own John Ganer?
- Was Thomas Moore a slaveholder even though he was a man of color?
- How did John Ganer become free?
- Why was John Ganer freed upon the death of Thomas Moore?
- These documents do not mention the parents of John Ganer. Why? What actions could be taken to find out more about the parents of John Ganer?
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:
- Classify a document as primary or secondary and support their answers.
- Explain census records and their importance.
- Explain what information was recorded by the United States government in the years 1800, 1810, and 1820 and what this information tell us about this time.
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:
- What information did the United States government deem as important in the early 19th century?
- How does the information gathered in each year differ? How is it the same? Why are there differences.
- What reasons might there be for Samuel not to be accounted for in the 1820 census? Why was John Henry omitted from the census of 1800 and 1810? Explain.
- What do these records tell us about Samuel DeButts?
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:
- Dissect the central themes and morals of the folktales.
- Recognize the similarities in traditional African folklore stories and American folktales.
- Understand the influence African folklore has on American literature.
- Define griot, oral tradition, and trickster tales.
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.
VocabularyPrimary sources are original materials; an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study.
Secondary sources are accounts written after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.
Manumission is the act of setting free from slavery.
Griot is a West African musician or storyteller who recounts the oral history of a village, family, etc.