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Methods of Slave Resistance DBQ

80 min
  • Examine the various ways enslaved men and women resisted the conditions of slavery by analyzing primary source excerpts dating from c. 1780 to 1850.
  • Systematically analyze primary sources by answering comprehension questions for each document.
  • Write a thesis statement that responds to a document-based question prompt.

Students should have prior knowledge of how to approach primary sources, and the sensitivity and respect required to talk about the topic of slavery. The conditions of slavery described in some of these documents are painful and upsetting. Reflective questions are suggested for discussion after students have finished working through the documents to address the sensitivity of the topic.

Lead students in a brief discussion or quick written response to the following prompt: How do you react when you are put in a situation you find unfair, unjust, and/or morally wrong? What are your options? How can you respond? Guide students to think about the ways in which someone can “fight back” and address a wrong (e.g., due process, seek out like-minded individuals and work for change, use force or violence, run away, create coping mechanisms). Transition the conversation to the topic of slavery. The key point about slavery is that it was a power relationship in which enslaved individuals did not have power, and this was enforced by law and by violence. Students might find a grade or curfew unfair, but in comparison to having no power over your person, this is trivial. Remind students that as early as 1688 and throughout the Founding era, groups publicly condemned the institution of slavery (see the Germantown Friends’ Antislavery Petition, 1688 Primary Source in Chapter 2). Enslaved individuals also spoke or acted out in various ways to affirm their own humanity and call attention to the brutality of the institution of slavery. In this activity, students will consider those responses.

Distribute the document packet for the lesson. Have students work individually, with a partner, or in small groups to read each source in sequence and answer the accompanying questions.

After students have worked through the documents, invite them to come back together to synthesize the content by leading a class discussion on the following reflective questions. Students may respond orally to each question or write their responses to each question, as best fits your classroom.

1. What patterns did you see in the ways enslaved individuals resisted their fate? Point to specific pieces of evidence from the documents to support your answer.

2. What was most shocking to you in these documents?

3. Why is it important to thoroughly examine painful subjects in American history?

Have each student write a thesis statement to the DBQ prompt: Analyze the methods of resistance used by enslaved Africans in the United States c. 1780–1865.

You may solicit volunteers to share their thesis and workshop several using the following questions, or have students share with a partner and provide feedback on the following questions:

  • Does the thesis answer the question without restating the prompt?
  • Does the thesis make sense?
  • Is the thesis historically accurate?
  • Does the thesis provide clear and cohesive reasoning?
  • Does the thesis provide a road map or “table of contents” for an essay?

Thesis statements can be collected and assessed using the criteria from the College Board for a successful thesis statement, or with an individual class rubric.

Depending on where students are in their understanding of the DBQ essay, have students outline their response or write a full essay, as best fits your teaching situation.