Lesson Plan

Learning About Slavery at Mount Welby Using Primary Source Documents

park ranger and volunteer interpreting slavery at mount welby.

NPS photo

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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


The 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

A Voice Unheard, site bulletin
Wheat and Tobacco
A Voice Unheard, wayside





Primary 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.

Last updated: April 10, 2015