Lesson Plan: Overview

They're Only Children

Grade Level: 3rd

Bill of Sale 1835

Academic Standards

  • Content Standards
  • 3-4.1 Compare the conditions of daily life for various classes of people in South Carolina, including the elite, the middle class, the lower class, the independent farmers, and the free and the enslaved African Americans.
    3-4.2 Summarize the institution of slavery prior to the Civil War, including reference to conditions in South Carolina, the invention of the cotton gin, subsequent expansion of slavery and the economic dependency on slavery.
    Social Studies Literacy Elements

    A. The students will distinguish between past, present and future time.

    K. The students will use text, photographs, and documents to observe and interpret social studies trends and relationships.

    L. The students will interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts.

    Historical Background Notes

    Most slave children could not look back on the days of their childhood and smile at the fond memories. Their lives in many instances were just as harsh as those of adult enslaved laborers. In reality, it was harsher because they were only children. The family life, living conditions and labor of slave children in the south left a bitter mark on the history of the United States.

    What constituted a family life was very different for slave children compared to their owner’s family or a family today. Enslaved children learned this fact very early in their young lives. John Brown, enslaved in Dawkins Station, SC did not know where he was born or who his parents were. He said Master Tom Dawkins told him he was found in a basket at the train station. Master Dawkins told the conductor John belonged to him and took him home because "all little African children were owned by someone" (Rhyne 1999,1). This was the case of many enslaved children not knowing their past.

    Many children were born into slavery on the plantations and remained there with their birth mothers. Babies were taken to the field with their mothers. They were tied to trees or the mother’s back in order to be nursed and fed while the mother worked. Men were sold more frequently because of their unique abilities: they were often skilled tradesmen and could work longer hours at their job. This left many slave children fatherless. There was always the real nightmare that a child could be sold away from the plantation and never know his family. Delia Garlic remembered bitterly, “Babies were snatched from their mother’s breast and sold to speculators” (Bial 1997, 11). Some children were sold or given away within the master’s family.

    Caleb Craig, a slave in Blackstock, SC said he was given to Marse John’s daughter Missus Marion. He was born on Christmas Eve in 1851. Caleb mentioned that it was rare for most slave children to know where or when they born (Rhyne 1999, 64).

    Records of slave births were vague. Most records only mentioned the month, year and mother’s name. In some cases no records were kept by the master and definitely not by the slave themselves. Slaves could only tell history if it could be passed down in the form of a story from generation to generation.

    The living conditions of slaves varied among plantations. The treatment of slaves depended on the individual master, mistress and overseers. Some masters realized that slaves were their labor force and therefore took care of them physically so they were able to work. Other masters were cruel with no regard to the physical harm they caused to their slaves. The living conditions and the basic human needs of food, shelter and clothing were inferior, and met on a minimal level when compared to the living conditions of the white owners. 

    Slaves and their children ate mostly the rations provided by their master. Some were allowed to grow gardens. Mary Jane Kelley said they planted according to the signs from nature. The slaves were able to look at the stars and the moon to know the time to plant certain vegetables. Beans were planted during the sign of the crawfish. They also planted vegetables such as potatoes and turnips during the dark of the moon. While having a garden was nice, she also spoke of how the master fed her and the other African children from the trough. They ate from a trough in the yard just like the hogs.

    Most slave children had very little clothing. The most popular garment worn was usually a shift made from Osnaburg linen, coarsest cloth or other material. During the summer most children wore no shoes. They may have been given one pair of used shoes for the winter (Newman 2000, 16).

    Slave cabins usually came in two styles. Most were one-room log huts with cracks and dirt floors. There was very little furniture and the slaves slept on straws and rags (Newman 2000, 16). Another style cabin was built for two families. Some of the families would put up old boards or old clothes as partitions. Boys and girls slept together until they were “married”. After marriage they no longer slept with their siblings but instead with their spouse. The two families used one fireplace for heat and cooking. Rags were used to stuff the cracks to keep the cold winter air out. Jacob Stroyer said during the summer the cabins were too warm to sleep comfortably. He and the other slaves often slept outside under the trees until the month of October when it became cool again (Stroyer 1885, 45).

    Slave children began to labor on the plantations at different ages. Some did not begin until the age of six while others worked a variety of tasks as soon as they could walk. The very young children could do simple jobs such as tote water and pick up stones. They formed “trash gangs” that cleaned up yards and weeded gardens. Children a little older could tend to the livestock by milking cows, feeding chickens and other duties (Greene 1999, 25).

    By the age of twelve children were expected to do the same jobs as most adults. They were placed in the fields to pick cotton, cultivate rice and tend to all duties necessary to produce various crops. Some children were trained at a young age to work in the “big house." These children were known as housegals and houseboys. They did chores such as waiting on the missus, caring for the master’s children, cleaning, cooking, and other household duties.

    Alexander Robertson was a houseboy on the Stewart Plantation two miles southwest of Winnsboro, SC. His mother was the cook. He ran errands around the house and field. Another one of his jobs was to go with Master Stewart everyday. Because he was too little to drive, his job was to hold the horse when Master Stewart got off (Rhyne 1999, 3).

    Slave children were taught to do any job that needed to be done. Some young boys were taught skilled trades such as carpentry and blacksmithing. Jacob Stroyer said he had “an early relish for the occupation of hostler” (Stroyer 1885, 19). One of his jobs was to take care of the horses. He also learned to ride themamd it was during this time that Jacob learned a very important lesson.

    While learning to ride he was thrown from the horse many times. Each time he was thrown the overseer would whip him. Jacob went to his parents for help. This is when he learned that as slaves there was nothing they could do to protect him even though they were his parents. This was a lesson that slave children learned early in life. The most they could do was look forward to bad weather days and Sundays

    “Slave children belonged to the master, not their mother and father. Young ones could be sold away at any time, and the parents were unable to do anything to save their children from the auction block” (Bial 1997, 11).


    Plantation volume listing of slave children. 1828-1839. Francis Bernard Higgins Papers. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

    Bill of sale. 13 June 1835. Murphy and O'Bryan Family Papers, 1834-1857. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

    List of negroes purchased for James Chestnut. 21 November 1815. South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.

    Stroyer, Jacob. My Life in the South. Salem: Salem Observer Book and Job Print, 1885. Website.

    Secondary Sources

    Bial, Raymond. The Strength of These Arms: Life in the Slave Quarters. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

    Greene, Meg. Slave Young, Slave Long: The American Slave Experience. Minneapolis: Lerner Publications Company, 1999.

    Johnson, Delores. Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family. New York: Maxwell MacMillan, 1993.

    Newman, Shirlee. Slavery in the United States. New York: Grolier Publishing, 2000.

    Rhyne, Nancy. Voices of Carolina Slave Children. Orangeburg: Sandlapper Publishing, 1999.

    American Slavery: The Southern Plantation Way of Life. American Early Year, 1789-1816. SCETV website.

    Lesson Plans

    Students will learn how the lives of African American slave children differed from children's lives today.

    Day 1 (45 minutes)

    1. The lesson will be introduced by the teacher reading aloud Now Let Me Fly: The Story of a Slave Family.

    2. The class will discuss the book and respond to questions.

    3. The students will read over quotes from the book.

    4. They will analyze and interpret the meaning of the quotes in groups.

    (see attached quote worksheet)

    5. The students will review how much the children were sold for in the book.

    6. Students will examine a photocopy of a sales receipt of two slave children.

    Bill of Sale, 13 June 1835. Murphy and O'Bryan Family Papers, 1834-1857.

    South Caroliniana Library, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina.    

    7. The students will answer questions and discuss the bill of sale.

    (See attached questions)

    Day 2 (45 minutes)

    1. The class and I will read aloud excerpts from My Life In the South (pages 10, 11, 19 and 20) and Voices of Carolina Slave Children (page 64 and page 91). We will discuss the lives of these enslaved children.

    2.  The class will examine and analyze two different listing of slaves and discuss in groups how the listings are different. The students should notice that James Chestnut’s list shows children who were purchased while Francis Higgins list shows children who were born on the plantation. They will observe how the list added more details as the years progressed. They will also make note of the other items and cost of supplies purchased along with the slave children.

    3. The class will view segments of American Early Years using ETV Streamline video and Avery key. The video shows the daily lives of slaves. (ETV Streamline is available for free to all South Carolina public, private, and home schools. However, registration and login is required to access content.)

    4. They will evaluate and discuss the conditions of slavery in groups of four.

    5. Students will respond to the question “Was Slavery Wrong? Why or Why not?”

    (See attached Summary Response Form.)

    Day 3 (45 minutes)

    Students will use the information viewed and discussed over the past two days to create a poster project comparing their lives today to that of enslaved children.

    Teacher Reflections

    I was impressed and surprised by how much the students enjoyed the lesson. I consider their enthusiasm to be the greatest strength of the lesson. The questions that the students asked showed that they were interested and wanted to know more. While viewing a picture of a beaten slave online a student asked, “How can you beat somebody that bad?” Another student’s stepfather is from Walterboro. He was able to have a personal connection to the slave sales receipt.

    The students took a special interest in the receipt. They commented on how an XBOX 360 Video Player costs more than one slave. Students also showed a great interest when I asked them to pass back up the slave sales receipt. Around seven students asked

    me if they could keep their copy. I asked who else wanted to keep their copy and they all raised their hands. They told me they wanted to share it with their mother and other family members.

    The next day a parent requested another copy. My student told her I had a colored copy. She asked to see it and said she would like to frame a copy. I shared with her that The Archives has numerous documents and information of this kind.

    Students enjoyed making the slave life projects. I felt that the students were able to empathize with the slave children when comparing it to their lives. They could not imagine eating the same corn meal mush everyday or being punished for learning to read. Some of the Venn diagrams were detailed while others were vague. Almost all of the students agreed that African American children should not have been enslaved.

    One weakness was the length of the lesson. I thought lesson one would only take three days to teach but it instead it took six days to complete. Each lesson lasted between fifty minutes to an hour. I had to delete the part of the lesson where the students compare and contrast two different slave lists. With so many standards to cover I could not devote any more time to this one standard. A great deal of time was also spent answering students’ questions due to their high interest in the topic.

    I plan to use the portion of the lesson that compares and contrast the two different slave list as a homework assignment. It is an opportunity for parents to help their children and also be exposed to a primary resource that I feel is important.

    One way that I feel I should improve this lesson is to try not to be bias. I am positive that my personal feeling has an influence on my students. Another improvement I would like to make is to find the time to include more primary resources in my lessons. Taking this class let me know there are many resources available and many people willing to help me locate and use them.

    Dr. Marty Matthews did an excellent job as Master Scholar. I appreciated his great deal of knowledge in history. He was entertaining and always open for questions. A large period of history was covered in two weeks. I wanted to know more about some of the topics that we only covered briefly. I was able to read more about them in Alan Brinkley’s The Unfinished Nation. I was also given and informed of so many more resources to use.

    The Master Teachers gave me ideas and showed me how to use the information. I wondered how could a third grader use a primary resource. Some of them are hard for me to interpret. I learned how to read and interpret sources. I now use the PAST concept with most literature that I read. It is very important to know the source and their point of view. The teaching ideas such as creating tables, Venn diagrams, discussions, debates and the many others shared by the Master Teachers will give my lesson variety in the future.

    History should not be taught as a lecture when there are so many interactive activities students can use. Both the Master Scholar and Master Teacher content and instruction improved my knowledge and method of teaching South Carolina history.

    Student Assessment

    Examples of Students Work


    Valentina Cochran
    Pine Grove Elementary, Columbia, SC.