Reward: Valuable Slaves

In this lesson students will examine run-away slave advertisements and slave auction broadsides to get an understanding of how enslaved African Americans were viewed during the time of slavery. Students will be put in small groups and using the documents will answer primary source activities. Each group will present and discuss their documents with the whole class. Then students will write “I Am” poems from the perspective of the slaves in their document.

Historical Background

The beginnings of slavery can be traced back to1619 when the first Africans were brought to the Jamestown against their will. It is unknown if these individuals were free or indentured.

Eventually according to the United States Census, by 1790 there were 304,000 enslaved Africans. By 1860 there were 3,950,000 slaves. The slave population grew at the same rate as the free population. In the South about 25% of people where slave owners.

Until the Emancipation Proclamation and the ratification of the 13th Amendment, Virginia was a slave state. Many slaves were treated as property to be bought and sold.

Lesson Objective

Students will learn more about how enslaved people were viewed by slave owners and slave traders.

VS.1: The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis and responsible citizenship, including the ability to interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives and evaluate and discuss issues orally and in writing.

VS.2: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War by identifying the events and differences between northern and southern states that divided Virginians and led to secession.



  1. Divide class into 7 groups and give each group a different primary source.
  2. Allow students time to work in groups to close read and discuss the document.
  3. Next pass out primary source analysis questions. Students in each group will use their assigned document to answer the analysis questions.
  4. Groups will then take turns presenting their document and the their answers to the class. (document will be projected on the Promethean Board)
  5. Introduce the “I Am” poem activity and go over the directions and expectations (outlined in the assessment section below)
  6. Pass out the template for the “I Am” poem.
  7. Students will write the poem from the perspective of an enslaved African American from one of the documents.


Write an I Am Poem from the perspective of an enslaved African American at the time of slavery.

Put yourself in the place of one of the slaves from our primary source lesson. Using the following format you are going to write an I Am poem.
REMEMBER….write this from the point of view of one of the enslaved people from our documents.

I am (describe who you are)
I wonder why (something you are want to know about)
I hear (a sound you would hear)
I see (something you have seen in your life)
I want (something that you desire)
I am (repeat the first line)
I imagine (tell what you imagine)
I feel (tell how you feel)
I am afraid (tell about that scares you)
I worry about (something you worry about)
I cry because (something that makes you sad)
I am (repeat the first line)
I understand (something you know is true)
I say (something you believe in)


“$50.00 Reward.” Broadside. March 6, 1861. From the Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library. (accessed April 6, 2012).

Clagett, Amy.”$100 Reward: Moses.” The Genius of Liberty. August 6, 1836. From the Friends of Thomas Balch Library. (accessed April 6, 2012).

“For Sale.” Advertisement. Madison County, VA: 1852. From the Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library. (accessed April 6, 2012).

Gunnel, W.H. “Fifty Dollars Reward: Will or Bill.” The Genius of Liberty. August 18, 1819. From the Friends of Thomas Balch Library. (accessed April 6, 2012).

Hunter, John. “100 Dolls. Reward: Lewis Berry.” The Genius of Liberty. June 13, 1826. From the Friends of Thomas Balch Library. (accessed April 6, 2012).

“Sale of valuable slaves, by Hewlett & Bright, New Orleans, May 13, 1835.” Poster. From Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division: Slavery collection / auction and sales. (accessed April 6, 2012).

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