Slavery in America

The first slaves arrived in Virginia around 1619, and slavery existed in America for the next 250 years. Africans made up the largest number of migrants to the New World during the colonial era, especially during the eighteenth century. During the four centuries of the Atlantic slave trade, an estimated 11 million Africans were transported to North and South America.

In the United States, slaves had no rights. A slave could be bought and sold just like a cow or horse. Slaves had no say in where they lived or who they worked for. They had no representation in government. Slaves could not own property and were not allowed to learn or be taught how to read and write.

Beginning in the 1750s, there was widespread sentiment that slavery was a social evil and should eventually be abolished, but even the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not end slavery. Slavery continued in the states that were part of the Union forces. Slavery came to an end in 1865 when the 13th Amendment was ratified after the end of the Civil War. 

Sample some of the following activities to learn more about slavery in America.


Places To Go    People To See    Things To Do    Teacher Resources    Bibliography

Places To Go

The following are places to go (some real and some virtual) to find out about slavery in America.

On July 2, 1839, fifty-three African slaves on board the Amistad revolted against their captors, killing everyone except the navigator of the ship. The navigator sailed them to Long Island where they were put on trial for murder.
Levi Coffin House
Levi Coffin was a Quaker abolitionist who has often been termed the "president" of the Underground Railroad.." It is believed that Coffin and his wife Catherine helped more than 2,000 fugitive slaves escape to freedom, using this house as a principal depot.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
The mission of the National Underground Freedom Center is to educate people on enslavement everywhere. Students can explore the Underground Railroad and see how the fight for freedom continues today.
The Underground Railroad
Virtually travel underground railroad routes. These routes were a series of paths, trails, safe homes, and routes leading slaves to freedom in northern states or Canada.

Back to Top


People To See

The Confessions of Nat Turner
Meet Nat Turner. In 1831, he was the leader of the Southampton Insurrection. A slave in Virginia, Nat Turner, along with about 60 other slaves, planned an unsuccessful slave uprising. Nat Turner was captured and hanged for his role.
Dred Scott's Fight for Freedom
Dred Scott was a slave to Dr. John Emerson, a U.S. army surgeon. Have students research the results of the famous Dred Scott Case and learn about the consequences of the legal decision.
Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass was born in 1817 in Maryland, the son of a slave and an unknown white father. He escaped from slavery in 1838 and took the last name of Douglass from Sir Walter Scott's hero in The Lady of the Lake.
Harriet: The Moses of Her People
Meet Harriet Tubman. She escaped from slavery in Maryland in 1849 and became one of the most famous conductors on the underground railroad, leading more than 300 slaves to freedom.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Meet Harriet Beecher Stowe. She wrote the antislavery book, Uncle Tom's Cabin. It was first published in 1851-1852 as a serial in an abolitionist newspaper called the National Era. Ms. Stowe was a New Englander and was from a family of preachers and educators who were involved in the abolitionist movement. 

Back to Top


Things To Do

Addy's Escape to Freedom
From this site, based on the American Girls books, students can virtually follow a family as they travel on the underground railroad to freedom. 
Africans in America
From PBS, this series calls itself "America's journey through slavery". The website and the PBS series is in four parts, each with a historical narrative, a resource bank, and a teacher's guide.
American Slave Narratives: An Online Anthology
Read first-hand accounts of the experiences of former slaves who lived and worked on plantations, in cities, and on small farms. These narratives were gathered by writers and journalists under the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s.
Chronology on the History of Slavery and Racism
Learn about the history of slavery in America. "A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years labor in exchange for passage to America. The popular conception of a racial-based slave system did not develop until the 1680's."
The District of Columbia Emancipation Act
Learn about the law that came before the Emancipation Proclamation. "On April 16, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill ending slavery in the District of Columbia. Passage of this act came 9 months before President Lincoln issued his Emancipation Proclamation. The act brought to conclusion decades of agitation aimed at ending what antislavery advocates called "the national shame" of slavery in the nation's capital."
Documenting the American South
One of the sections is called On The Old Plantation: Reminiscences of His Childhood by John George Clinkscales (1855-1942). Read his remembrances of his childhood on a plantation in South Carolina where his father owned many slaves. The author wrote this account in 1916 when he would have been about 61 years old. In the foreward of his account, he indicates that he wrote it for the benefit of his children and grandchildren to let them know that "Slavery was not all bad."
The Emancipation Proclamation
Virtually view the original Emancipation Proclamation which was issued on January 1, 1863.
Harriett Tubman and the Underground Railroad
Follow along with this second grade class in Sleepy Hollow, New York as they learn about the underground railroad.
Learn about the history of the celebration called Juneteenth.
Middle Passages: Slaveship Database
Find a listing of slave ships 1817 to 1843. You can view the names of the ships that sailed under the flags of America, Portugual, and Spain.
Missouri Compromise
Explore how the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri to the Union as a slave state, really addressed the issue of slavery.
Pink and Say
Visit your school or public library and check out Pink and Say by Patricia Polacco. It tells the true story of Pinkus Aylee and Sheldon Russell, Union soldiers. Pink was a former slave and Say was an Ohio farm boy.
Remembering Slavery: Those Who Survived Tell Their Story
Listen to actual audio clips of interviews with former slaves. The interviews mostly took place in the 1940s.
Secret Codes
Learn about the secret codes used by slaves to help them escape from slavery.
The Thirteenth Amendment
Learn about the ammendment that abolished slavery as a legal institution. It was ratified on December 6, 1865.
Underground Railroad Special Resource Study (pdf)
In 1990, Congress authorized the National Park Service to conduct a study of the Underground Railroad, its routes and operations in order to preserve and interpret this aspect of United States history. You can view the results of that study here.

Back to Top


Teacher Resources

Back to Top



  • Altman, Linda Jacobs. Slavery and Abolition: In American History. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow Publishers, c1999.
  • Collier, Christopher. Slavery and the Coming of the Civil War, 1831-1861. Tarrytown, New York: Benchmark Books, c2000.
  • Greene, Meg. Slave Young, Slave Long: The American Slave Experience. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., c1999.
  • Haskins, James. Bound for America: The Forced Migration of Africans to the New World. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1999.
  • King, Wilma. Children of the Emancipation. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, c2000.
  • Macht, Norman L. The History of Slavery.San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1997.
  • Meltzer, Milton. They Came in Chains: The Story of the Slave Ships. New York: Benchmark Books, 2000.
  • Naden, Corinne J. Why fight?: The Causes of the American Civil War. Austin, TX: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1999.
  • Roberts, Russell. Lincoln and the Abolition of Slavery. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c2000.
  • Tackach, James.The Emancipation Proclamation: Abolishing Slavery in the South. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, c1999.