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Title: A Comparison of Indentured Servants and Slaves

Subject: Indentured Servants and Slaves
Grade Level(s): Elementary Middle
Author(s): Marion Garratt
School: Mt. Vernon Woods
Lesson Time: Six forty five minute to 1 hour periods

Topics Covered:
African Americans
Immigration and Ethnicity
Labor & Labor Movements
Rural Life & Movements
Southern States
Time Periods Covered:
Colonization & Settlement, 1585-1763
Revolution & the New Nation, 1754-1820s
Expansion & Reform, 1801-1861

Part 1

Essential Learning Description

Students will examine and compare the lives of slaves and indentured servants using primary sources and the historical fiction books, Molly Bannaky and Barefoot.

Students will analyze and compare advertisements for runaway slaves. The students will learn that slaves were treated as property that had a high economic value.

National History Standards (Historical Thinking Standards):
1. Chronological Thinking
2. Historical Comprehension
3. Historical Analysis & Interpretation

Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs):

Fairfax County Program of Studies (POS):
Grade 4
Grade 6
Grade 7
Grade 11

Learning Strategy Objectives:
1. Tell What You Know (Activate Prior Knowledge)
3. Make Inferences
4. Use Selective Attention
5. Use Resources
6. Summarize
8. Use/Create Graphic Organizers
11. Use Imagery

Part 2


Pre-assessment: Use a T Chart for the words indentured and slave. Use one column for each word.

Assessment: Complete Venn diagram for slaves and indentured servants on the ship.
Use information from the primary source documents.
Color the ship. Project will be evaluated for content information and aesthetic appeal.
Journal Response: Could the Barefoot be a slave, indentured servant or both?
Use the information from the Venn Diagram and primary documents to support your thinking.

Students will identify and compare the characteristics of the runaways using at least two primary source adds.

Instructional Strategies

Opener: Read Barefoot

*Show students the book cover. Cover the words, "Escape on the Underground Railroad" with sticky notes so they can not be seen. Ask for predictions. Who could be barefoot? What connections can you make with the pictures or with being barefooted?

*Read pages 1-17 through without any discussion to set the mood.

* Questions: What images do you have of the Barefoot? What pictures, words and feelings portray the Barefoot and the ones who are chasing him? Why is the Barefoot fleeing?

* Partner Share (about 2 min - students turn to a person next to them)

*Ask several students to share their partner's thinking.

*Make notes on a class chart.
Make a list of words and phrases that describe Barefoot and Heavy Boots.

Group Discussion: Why is one called Barefoot and the other Heavy Boots? How does the natural world respond to the chase? What genre is Barefoot? Is it fiction or nonfiction? Could this story really happen? What is historical fiction? What is realistic in this story and what is not? Explain to the students that historical fiction is fiction that takes place in a historical setting with a historical problem. The historical problem is the Barefoot fleeing the master.

T Chart

*Work with a partner to complete T Chart for indentured servants and slaves (about 10 minutes) Students are to draw T chart in notebook. Draw a line across the paper from left to right. Fold the page in half. Draw a line to the bottom of the page down the fold. Place Indentured Servants over the left column and Slaves over the right. The line is in the middle. Students list prior knowledge of indentured servants and slaves on the T Chart in the appropriate column.

On chart paper list prior knowledge of indentured servants

Molly Bannaky: Show the cover and have students make predictions about Molly's life and character traits from the picture. Introduce this book as historical fiction.

While the teacher is reading, students will make notes about the lives of indentured servants and slaves on the T chart in their notebook. Continue to use the left column for indentured servants and the right column for slaves. Use a different color for notes on Molly Bananaky.

Read about Molly's life in England. What was her social position? Why was Molly accused of stealing the Lord's milk? What civil rights did she have? Why was she indentured? What time period is this? What is her problem?

Read two times about her seven years as an indentured servant. Students will make a list of her duties. Discuss her life as an indentured servant.

Have students summarize the information they have collected about indentured servants. Could the Barefoot be an indentured servant? Would an indentured servant want to run away? What information can we add to our Indentured Servant chart after reading Molly Bannaky?

Strategy: Partner share: Have the class turn to the student next to them. Share two ideas from their T Chart. Select students to share one idea shared by their partner. This strategy encourages students to listen to each other. If they did not record the same information, they can borrow the information from their partner and record it on their chart.

Day Two

Objective: Students will research, record and compare information about the life of slaves and indentured servants from historical fiction and primary texts.

Opener: Summarize the reading and thinking from the previous day's reading of Molly Bannaky. Review the characteristics of an indentured servant.

Molly Bannaky: Read the description of the slave ship docking. Compare the picture of the slave ship with the indentured servant ship. What are the similarities and the differences?

Read about Molly and Bannaky. Was Bannaky's a normal slave experience? What was Bannaky's background? How was he set free? What was colonial law in regards to interracial marriage? Could a free person marry a slave? Could an indentured servant and a slave marry? What was the historical time period? How does this time period relate to slave codes?

What were the similarities and differences between Molly and Bannaky's experience as slaves and servants?

Do you think that Bannaky could be a Barefoot? What about the others on the ship?
Students record information about slavery on the T chart. Discuss.

PRIMARY DOCUMENTS: To find out more about the lives of slaves and indentured servants we will read some primary documents written by or dictated by slaves and servants. Explain to the students what a primary document is and why it is important. A primary document describes the personal experience in a historical context. Show samples of primary documents. Some of the documents listed in the resources can be printed off to show the students.

Read the following excerpt by Elizabeth Sprigs with the class. Complete the structured writing assignment with the class by modeling how to obtain the information from the primary source. Compare the source with Molly Bannaky. How does reading a primary source affect your thinking about slaves and indentured servants? The full selection could be used by students later for their organizer. It is not necessary to fill in every question for the sample if your class understands how to find the information. The enclosed sample could have other specific details listed.

Day Three

Objective: Students will complete with a partner a structured reading assignment to analyze the experience of the slave or indentured servant featured in the primary document.

Have students work in groups or with a partner on the primary documents or an excerpt from a primary document. Students are to glue or staple primary source text and the guided reading organizer into their notebook. Many texts are listed. Excerpts from texts are included. Teachers can decide what is most appropriate for their students. Students need to understand that documents will portray only part of the experience and as other students share their documents a more complete picture will be made. Students may be interested in the full text included here.

Students can select from several letters and narratives written by indentured servants and slaves.

  • Memoirs of a Monticello Slave, as dictated to Charles Campbell by Isaac (1847)
  • Experiences of an Indentured Servant (1623)
  • Elizabeth Sprigs, Letter to Her Father (1756)
  • Richard Lowther (1627)
  • Indenture Contract of William Buckland
  • Gottlieb Mittelberger On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants (1754)
  • Narratives from Slavery Time When I was Chillun
  • http://www.

The previous websites are listed in the bibliography. Advanced students can use these for further research. The excerpts included will work for the class. The slave narrative excerpts are written later with the Federal Writers project.
Groups who finish early should be encouraged to read and discuss a second selection so that they read a primary source for indentured servants and slaves.

Conclusion: Students share their learning. Students will compare information, tone of writing and purpose of writing between primary resource and Barefoot and Molly Bannaky.

Day 4 Ship Venn Diagram

Objective: Students will use knowledge from the primary resources, SOL objectives and Molly Bannaky to complete the Ship Venn diagram.
Some students may still be finishing their primary document organizer while others may be looking up more information on the websites listed in the lesson plan.

Lesson Assessment: Complete the Ship Venn diagram by comparing the lives and roles of slaves and indentured servants. Make a draft of the Venn diagram in the student notebook before placing the information on the ship. Color the ship and the background. Go over the words on the ship with fine point marker. Color code the Venn diagram with three colors, one color each for Slaves, Indentured Servants and Both. Once the diagram is approved it should be placed on the ship. Color the ship. The finished product should be graded for both content information and visual presentation.

Differentiation: For students who need extra support in organizing their thoughts for the Venn diagram color code the T Chart. With a highlighter underline ideas that are the same in both columns. Use these highlighted ideas for the center portion of the diagram. For students who are visual learners and have limited writing and speaking skills have them make a story board illustrating their knowledge of slaves and indentured servants.

Conclusion: Students share the Ship Venn Diagrams. Final discussion should include some of these questions. What are the similarities between the indentured servants and slaves? What hardships did they both endure? What benefits did indentured servants have that slaves did not have? Can we judge the past with todayís values? What was most meaningful to you in your learning?


Gifted: Encourage these students to read the more challenging narratives or the full narrative instead of the excerpt. Use the websites to look up more narratives. Using the Venn diagram write a comparison between indentured servants and slaves. Use additional research from the internet. The writing can be a letter, essay or a diary entry, or a letter to the master with an explanation for running away. Possible further extensions include creating a visual, story board, children's book, writing a song or reader's theatre script and building a model. Students should be able to choose the type of media to present their learning experience with this complex subject.

Further extensions could explain how and why slavery evolved from the indentured servant.

Special Education: Develop the vocabulary and the background knowledge needed to understand the experience. Indentured servants were not always willing to come. They were sold just like slaves. They will need help in making the comparisons and similarities. When students are taking notes on the T-chart color code the information. This will make it easy to use. The Venn Diagram should have three colors. Use text that is easily understood. Also use picture (watch out for graphic pictures) (Limit student access to pictures on web) Students who have difficulty with note taking could tell a partner or take turns writing. Statements on the graphic organizer need to match SOL content. Students may need assistance with primary documents. Look for short selections or use parts of a selection. The modern English version will help. They may need to be read out loud to the students and discussed. Encourage the students to take the information listed on the T-Chart from Molly Bannaky and look for examples in the primary sources.

ESOL: Children who come from other cultures need to make connections with the history of slavery in their cultures. They need to see that this was a world wide system. Learning strategies that help students to develop background knowledge and vocabulary will make the learning experience richer. Beginning with Barefoot and Molly Bannaky will help to build background knowledge. Partner work and using visuals will also help. Give them opportunities to speak, write and discuss their thinking.

Extension opportunities should also be available for all students.

Possible student prior knowledge

Indentured Servants
Chose to come to the colonies
Signed a contract
Worked hard
Received freedom after a period of time
Worked for 4-7 years for passage

Were forced to come from Africa
Never received freedom
Separated from family
Bought and sold as property
Came from many different cultures in Africa

SOL knowledge students must know in Virginia

Indentured Servants
Consisted of men and women who did not have money for passage
Agreed to work without pay for the person who paid for passage
Free at end of contract

Captured in native Africa, sold to slave traders
Shipped to colonies sold into slavery
Owned as property for life with no rights
Were often born into slavery

Use the information from the Sol Content knowledge on the Venn diagram

Similarities between slaves and indentured servants
Both could be bought and sold
Lacked proper food and clothing
Poor housing
Hard work
Often died from servitude
Could be hunted and punished for running away, whipped or branded
Could be separated from
Were not allowed to learn to read and write
Information from Molly Bannaky
Molly was forced to be an indent
She was allowed to earn extra money while working as a servant
She was given materials and land at the end of her contract
It was illegal to marry an African
She was the grandmother of Benjamin Banneker

Journal conclusion:
The Barefoot could be either an indentured servant or a slave. Both ran away and were retrieved and punished. Looking at the many ads for runaways, some were servants while others were slaves. Many servants were abused as Elizabeth Sprig testifies. As the Federal Project makes clear some masters were kinder than others. Whippings, hard labor, and lack of food and clothing were all reasons for running away.
If the entire unit is being completed, this journal selection will have even more meaning after reading the runaway ads and journals. Heavy Boots is after the runaway because the servant and the slave are valuable economic assets to him. Heavy Boots is the master, the colonial authorities, and later the slave hunters.

Days Five and Six: The Economic Value of Servants and Slaves

Opener: We used the book Barefoot as a tool to understand why an indentured servant and a slave would run away. We also saw from our reading of primary documents that slaves and indentured servants were both treated very poorly and many of them ran away and many died from the severe conditions. The time period we dealt with earlier was the 1600s through the early 1700s. Today we are going to look at reasons why slaves ran away and the extensive documentation of ads for runaway slave.

Almost to Freedom--Read pages 1-10
What are the reasons for running away sighted in this story? This is historical fiction told through whose point of view? What effect did slavery have on the family? Is this a realistic picture of the time period? What consequences did run away slaves face?

Poster size copy of Runaway advertisement for Tom, University of Kentucky
chart paper

Procedure: What is this? What information does it give? What do you notice about Tom from the description? What are the identifying characteristics for Tom?
Why do you think Tom ran away?
Discuss the set up of the ad. As a class answer the following questions listed under Primary Documents

Primary Documents Select two ads.
Answer the following questions
Who ran away?
Who is making the ad?
What is the reward?
What words are used to describe the runaway?
Can a person be property?
What is the geographic area?

Runaways Apprehended: Three servants ran away. Read the following minutes from the court. Why is this case so significant?

Answer the following questions in your journal

  1. Who petitioned the court about his runaway servants
  2. What state is the court located in?
  3. Where did the servants run to?
  4. List each servant by name, nationality or race and with his punishment?
  5. What happened to John Punch?
  6. Name two precedents set by this case?
Students read the court minutes and answer questions in journal.

Make copies for students of the minutes and the questions

Answer Key

  1. Hugh Gwyn
  2. Virginia
  3. Maryland
  4. Victor--Dutchman--served the master for an extra year, the colony for three years and received whipping with 30 lashes
    James Gregory--Scotsman--served the master an extra year, the colony three, and received whipping with 30 lashes
  5. John Punch--Negro was whipped with 30 lashes, sentenced to serve master for life
  6. First known case of slavery and first case of sending to another state to request runaways be sent home.

Day Six: The Economic Value of Servants and Slaves

Objective: Analyze a primary source to identify the classification of labor before the slave codes made slavery legal.

Materials: poster or overhead of Labor Owned by James Stone, 1648, York
Student copies

What is this document? What does it prove? How is the value of the labor determined? What is the unit of measure? How are the people classified? Why is this significant? Why are some laborers valued higher than others? What questions do you have about this document?

Take five minutes and record these thoughts in your journal before discussion.

Where was this document located?
What purpose was it filed for?

Teacher Notes: The class needs to notice that not all the people have an amount of time to serve. The value of the laborers was calculated in tobacco. The men were valued more than the woman. The Negro men did not have a time to serve next to their names. Their value was higher to James Stone than the value of the servants that would be with him for 3-6 more years. The woman's value was the lowest. This document shows that Negroís were being kept for life without slavery codes being legal. Also, Mingo and Emaniell do not have last names. Workers who stayed for life were more economically valuable.

Final Assessment: The final activity is a response in your journal to the following questions: Could the Barefoot be an indentured servant or a slave or both? Use the information you have about slaves and indentured servants to support your thinking. Who does heavy boots represent? Explain why Barefoot is running away and heavy boots is chasing him. Use descriptive words, strong verbs and details from the readings to support your thinking.

Journal conclusion: Teacher Notes
The Barefoot could be either an indentured servant or a slave. Both ran away and were retrieved and punished. Looking at the many ads for runaways, some were servants while others were slaves. Many servants were abused as Elizabeth Sprig testifies. As the Federal Project makes clear some masters were kinder than others. Whippings, hard labor, lack of food and clothing were all reasons for running away.
If the entire unit is being completed, this journal selection will have even more meaning after reading the runaway ads and court minutes. Heavy Boots is after the runaway because the servants and the slaves are valuable economic assets to him. Heavy Boots represents the master, the colonial authorities and later the slave hunters.

Have students share their journal entries and any final thoughts. Have students share how working with the primary sources helped them to understand is greater depth than just reading historical fiction.

Materials and Resources

  • Elizabeth Sprigs, Letter to Her Father, overhead or poster size
  • Primary Document Organizer, completed
  • Elizabeth Sprigs, Full Letter to Her Father
  • Gottlieb Mittelberger On the Misfortune of Indentured Servants
  • Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers project
  • Primary Document Organizer
  • Barefoot by Pamela Duncan Edwards
  • Molly Bannaky by Alice McGill
  • Narratives from Slavery Time When I was a Chillun by Belinda Hurmence
  • T Chart constructed by student in notebook
  • Ship Venn diagram--illustration by 6th grade student Juan Carlos Garcia Luna, 2003
  • Journals
  • Virginia Gazette Runaway Slave Advertisements
  • Runaway Slave Cases Transcripts
  • Record of Labor Owned by James Stone, 1648



Edwards, Pamela Duncan. Barefoot. Harper Collins, 1997.
This exciting picture book is only used through page 17. We only use the chase part of the book only. The Barefoot is used as an image to encourage the students to think. Do not use the remainder of the book. This is a fiction book.

McGill, Alice. Molly Bannaky. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1999
This is a wonderful story about an indentured servant and a slave, an African prince, who married and became the grandparents to Benjamin Banneker. It has good details about the bondage that Molly received for the punishment for a cow spilling the Lordís milk. Molly Bannaky is a historical picture book.

Hurmence, Belinda. Slavery Time When I Was Chillun. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1997
This book presents slave narratives from the Federal Writers Project. It also has pictures.

Nelson, Vaunda Micheaux. Almost to Freedom. Minneapolis: Carolrhoda Books, 2003.

Ship Venn Diagram: illustrated by sixth grade student, Juan Carlos Garcia , 2003 for Mr. Gregory Harris, Mt. Vernon Woods Elementary School, 2003.

Websites (go to First Hand Accounts and Letters) This is an excellent website with many letters, contracts, and information about indentured servants.(Attachment for Experiences of an Indentured Servant, Richard Lowther) There are slave narratives are on this site and also many other documents related to slavery and the law. The full web page is underneath but it is easier to go to the first address and click on African American History and then slave narratives. The Federal Writers project can be found here
This is the attachment for Mittelberger who describes the trip for indentured servants.
Elizabeth Sprigs, Letter to HerFather, is located at this site. This letter describes her situation as an indentured servant.
This is another website for slave narratives.
Slave narratives.
This website has a great selection of runaway ads

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