The existence of slavery in what was arguably the freest nation in the world was a living contradiction to the ideals of the founders of the United States that the basis of government was the protection of the individual’s right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Most white Americans, in the three or four decades before the Civil War, believed that it was these principles that set this nation apart from the rest of the world. In the years leading up to the Civil War slavery became the issue that would not go away. The activities of African-Americans, the agents of antislavery societies, and issues tied to territorial expansion, as well as the efforts of Southerners to protect their “Peculiar Institution” all kept the issue of slavery before the American public.

The goal of this web module exercise is to try and gain an understanding of the slave experience as it is revealed through a variety of historical documents. The assignment contains three types of documents.


For the preliminary analysis of the documents do the following.

  1. Read each document (note: there are choices to made).
  2. Analyze each document and describe each document’s content.
  3. What is the historical context of each document? (Why do you think it was created?)
  4. Are there any documents that contradict other documents?

For the final analysis report do the following:

  1. Building on your preliminary analysis write a report discussing the various mental, physical, and social aspects of the slave experience.
  2. Taking all the documents together, what does your web module group think are the most significant aspects of the slave experience?
  3. Which evidence contained in the documents supports your general analysis of slave experience?
  4. Which documents carry the greatest impact?

Frederick Douglass on Slavery

Go to


  1. What did Douglass feel was the biggest issue with regard to slavery?
  2. How does Douglass characterize slavery?
  3. What does Douglass feel should be done about slavery?

Slavery As It Is

Go to

At the menu select one of the following categories and one section within these categories.

  • Personal Narratives, Pt 1 (Pick one narrative).
  • Privations
  • Food
  • Labor
  • Clothing
  • Treatment of Sick
  • Punishments
  • Flogging
  • Tortures, By Iron Collars, Chains, Fetters, handcuffs &c.
  • Brandings, Maimings, Gun Shot Wounds &c.


  1. What do these documents tell us about masters and overseers?
  2. What do the documents reveal about slave experiences?
  3. What was the impact slavery on individuals?
  4. What do we learn about slave family life?

Slave Narratives

Go to

Read the Introduction and two of the slave narratives.


  1. What do the documents tell us about masters and overseers?
  2. What do the documents reveal about slave experiences?
  3. What psychological problems can you detect?

Images of Slavery

Go to


  1. How do the images support the evidence you have developed from the previous documents?
  2. Which images reveal the most negative view of slavery?
  3. Which images reflect a positive view of slavery?