Lesson Plan: Overview

“An Eye For An Eye, A Tooth For A Tooth”

Grade Level: 6th

South Carolina Slave Code - 1740

Academic Standards

Standard 6-1:The student will demonstrate an understanding of the transition of humans from nomadic to settled life in the cradles of civilization.

6-1.4 Compare the cultural, social, and political features and contributions of civilizations in the Tigris and Euphrates, Nile, Indus, and Huang He river valleys, including the evolution of language and writing systems, architecture, religious traditions and forms of social order, the division or specialization of labor, and the development of different forms of government.

Historical Background Notes

The colony of South Carolina’s Assembly passed the Slave Code of 1740.  This law tightened controls and put harsher penalties in place for enslaved Africans.  A series of new laws severely restricted the rights of slaves to move about, assemble without white supervision, or learn to read or write (Divine, et. al., 2002).  Under the new law slaves were not free to travel without written passes.  They could not raise food nor earn money.  They could not meet in-groups without whites present, and it was unlawful to teach slaves to read.  This resulted in enslaved Africans having even less freedom than before.  Why was the Slave Code necessary? Why did the Slave Code last for more than one hundred years?

In the beginning colonists search for ways to become rich, but found no gold in the new land as the Spanish had in Mexico.   The key to their wealth would be wrapped up in land and what it could produce.  The colonist decided on two crops that could be sold to rest of the world – rice and indigo.  However with the labor of thousands of people, the colonists could not grow enough of these crops to get rich.  The major issue confronting these colonists is where do I get this labor?

The majority of Africans who was enslaved in South Carolina came from West Africa.  The second largest group of enslaved Africans came from the area around the mouth of the Congo River.  Both areas were rich in fishing and grew rice.  These skills and knowledge of fishing and growing rice was very important to whites whose main objective was to become wealthy.  Traders brought most of the Africans to South Carolina because of their skill as rice workers.  By the 1700’s South Carolina made the rice plantation the center of economic life.  Enslaved Africans although not by choice were vital in the building of South Carolina into a strong state and economic success.  Well, what happened to change the state?

Even though there were some differences among enslaved Africans from one state to another, all enslaved African-Americans shared a common situation.  Legally, they were property.  They belonged to the owner or “master” or “mistress”.  Those who were enslaved had no civil rights, except the right not to be killed without good reason (SC State Department of Education, 2005).  Enslaved Africans families could be separated anytime the owner chose to sell any of his slaves.  Marriages were not legally binding.  Showing disrespect, saying the wrong word, giving the wrong look at the wrong time – all were punishable offenses.  Enslaved people had very little control over what they did each day, because the purpose of the plantations was to make money.

Not all Africans reacted to life in slavery the same way.  Many believed that their religious faith would bring them a better life in the next world.  Others rebelled in their work in the fields.  Some ran away.  Others burned barns on the plantations or murdered their masters.  After two major revolts taking place in South Carolina, whites began to fear a revolt by the black majority against the whites. 

The Stono Rebellion of 1739 frightened the colony’s white colonists.  By this time, slaves outnumbered white residents, and more slaves were arriving every year.  The slave code enacted by the Assembly in 1740 was designed to control the slaves’ actions and keep them so divided that they could not organize another revolt.  The slave code also set out penalties for masters who were cruel or overly demanding of their slaves.  Where would the thought of having a written code to direct and supervise a person originate?

The Hammurabi’s Code is a strict list of written laws that were written by King Hammurabi of Mesopotamia to govern society.  These laws provided strict justice to anyone breaking the law. The society was divided into three social classes, the upper class (government officials, priests, warriors) the class of freemen (merchants, artisans, professionals, and wealthy farmers) and a lower class of slaves.  Unlike the colonial period in South Carolina slaves were obtained by war; others were criminals.  Crimes such as striking one’s older brother and kicking one’s mother were punished by condemnation to slavery.  A man could pay his debts by selling both his children and wife into slavery.  One could become a slave simply by going into debt.  Despite some of the measures, slaves did possess a number of privileges: they could hold property, participate in business, marry free men and women, and eventually purchased their own freedom.

Slavery in Mesopotamia was a result of a person’s crime.  Slavery in colonial South Carolina was a result of greed and control, which are punishable under the Hammurabi’s Code.


  Primary Sources
  1740 South Carolina Slave Code.  Acts of the South Carolina General Assembly, 1740 # 670. South Carolina Department of Archives and History. Full Transcription of 1740 Slave Code
  L. W. King, translator, Hammurabi’s Code of Laws. Internet Ancient Sourcebook.
  Secondary Sources
  Divine, Robert A., T. H. Breen, George Fredrickson, and R. Hall Williams. The American Story. New York: Longman, 2002.
  Botsch, Carol Sears, et.al.  African Americans and the Palmetto State.  Columbia, SC:  South Carolina State Department of Education, 1994.  Available online at: South Carolina Department of Education
  A timer
  Graphic organizer (Venn Diagram)
  Graphic organizer (Windowpanes)
  Overhead projector

Lesson Plans

“An eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” reviews two types of codes and laws that were written at different time periods, but addressing people who were not so different.  Addressing the codes will take three class periods (40 minutes each) to complete.  The Slave Code of 1740 examines the laws enacted during the eighteenth century to manage a society.  Hammurabi Code examines the system of strict justice to manage a society.   Students will debate their reaction to both these codes.

Slave Code
Hammurabi Code
Debate Over Ethics

Teacher Reflections

The lessons were taught in sequence: The Slave Code, Hammurabi Codes, and reactions in the form of a debate.  The most challenging part of the lesson was using the documents.  When I distributed a copy to each student, all across the room I heard moans, grumbling about  “I can’t read this writing,” and “this is too hard”.  I discussed what a primary source document is and a little about the writing.  Reading the document first with the students helped to ease their anxiety a little about reading the documents.  They were willing to try it themselves.  This certainly was an emotional, argumentative learning activity.  Both codes stimulated strong reactions that the students were very anxious to share with the class.

Learning the difference between primary and secondary sources has changed one way my students view the newspaper and other written material that may be presented in class.   My students experienced handling documents for the first time, which was a real learning experience. Letters, articles and papers from centuries ago never occurred to them as sources, so I was glad introduce this authentic approach to learning. 

The thing that I would change is to locate letters of people who lived under the slave code and their reaction to the enacted slave code.  I would also try to find speeches made in support and against the slave code.  The code identified certain groups of people ("Negroes, Indians, mulattos, and mustizoes") that were deemed absolute slaves.  I would love to study the culture of these groups of people individually in both a sixth and seventh grade lesson.

Student Assessment

Assessment for “A eye for an eye and tooth for tooth” is performance based.  Student’s participation in the debate, guided discussion and writing was based on a standard based rubric Unacceptable, Needs Work, Good, and Excellent.

Examples of Students Work

  • Venn Diagram and Windowpanes


    Judy Wright
    Robert E. Howard Middle School, South Carolina