Primary Sources, Student Activities, Teacher Reference Materials

Who were the enslaved people in Salem?

Grade Level:
High School: Ninth Grade through Twelfth Grade
Social Studies
Common Core Standards:
9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10, 11-12.RH.1, 11-12.RH.2, 11-12.RH.5, 11-12.RH.7, 11-12.RH.9, 11-12.RH.10, 9-10.WHST.1, 9-10.WHST.1.a, 9-10.WHST.1.b
State Standards:
Teaching Hard History Frameworks
Key Concept 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 9, 10

Students use two 18th century primary source documents to explore the lives, labor, and significance of enslaved people in Salem and Essex County. 

This activity may be used alone or as part of a three-part activity series examining Salem merchant Richard Derby's connections to slavery and the slave economy.  


1. Students answer "Opening Question" (found in Student Materials) before being introduced to the primary source documents or background information. 
2. Students use background information (see Materials below) and primary source documents to complete the graphic organizer. 
3. Introduce supplemental primary source documents (below) to give students further context. 
4. Expand activity by taking the NPS App audio tour, "The Business of Slavery," and exploring places at Salem Maritime. 

A Note on Language

Over the course of American history, the language used to describe Black people has changed and most likely will continue to change. Be sure to discuss with students that some of the primary sources use outdated terms as well as racist and offensive language to describe Black people. We recommend developing a plan or guidelines to ensure a respectful, reflective classroom discussion.

A Note on Transcriptions

The primary source transcriptions included in "Student Materials" are heavily modified for length and clarity. We have worked to keep the documents representative of their original versions. You can find original transcriptions in "Teacher Materials."


Student Materials: two primary source documents and graphic organizer.

Download Student Materials

Background Information: understand the historical context of primary sources.

Download Background Information

Supplemental primary sources: for further context and to support essential question.

Download supplemental primary sources

Teacher Materials: original transcriptions of primary sources.

Download Teacher Materials

Last updated: January 31, 2023