The History of Slavery

There are many avenues of approach to the topic of the history of slavery. A student can focus on the bare economics of it: the money invested and the money made and how that helped America become a large and prosperous nation. Or one could analyze the political implications that came about as a result of the dependence of the South on cotton agriculture, compared to the increasingly diversified and industrializing economy of the North. Indeed, students of this history often find that the more they learn, the more questions they have. But perhaps the best way to learn about slavery is from the words of individuals who were able somehow to communicate their experiences to others, so that 160 years later we can get a glimpse into that life and attempt to put ourselves in another’s shoes.

This assignment will introduce students to Sojourner Truth, a woman who became quite famous for her work on behalf of women’s rights and abolition. In this short speech, Truth bares the emotional pain of her experience, but she also gives the student of history an incisive glimpse into the intersection of two reform movements of the mid-nineteenth century: abolition and women’s rights.


Document 1 is a pair of maps that highlight the spread and increase of cotton agriculture that occurred across the South and the West of the United States after the War of 1812. Cotton agriculture was slave-labor-intensive. Therefore, seeing the high density of cotton production in particular areas, one can get an idea of the number of slaves living in those regions and, with all of the information gathered, can begin to imagine what life was like in those environments for the individuals involved, individuals such as Sojourner Truth.

Document 2 is a videotaped performance of the speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth. Before viewing the video, however, students need to analyze Document 1.


1. Read the textbook Chapter 11 through 13.

2. Analyze the maps of Document 1, which highlight the spread and increase of slave-fueled agriculture across the southern and western states. Using the information in the text, try to imagine the economics of the areas. In other words, who had the economic power? Who dominated politically? What were some of the consequences of that?

3. View Document 2, the video of the actor Alfre Woodard’s performance of a speech given by the abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth.

4. Answer the questions that follow and be sure to label your answers and submit in the inbox below in the accepted formats.


1) Describe Document 1. What can you tell by analyzing the maps and what is their purpose?

3) What were the legal and material constraints on slaves’ lives and work?

4) Describe the ways in which the institution of slavery was distinctive to enslaved women.

5) Document 2: Who is the specific target audience for Sojourner Truth’s plea?

Document 1

Maps showing the expansion of the slave-based agricultural system

Document 2

Video -Alfre Woodard performing “Ain’t I a Woman?” “Ain’t I a Woman?” by Sojourner Truth (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

Text – Sojourner Truth (1797-1883): “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” Delivered 1851, Women’s Convention, Akron, Ohio

Wall, chilern, war dar is so much racket dar must be something/ out o’ kilter. I tink dat ‘twixt de nigger of de Souf and de womin at de Norf, all talkin’ ’bout rights, de white men will be in a fix pretty soon. But what’s all dis here talkin’ ’bout?

Dat man ober dar say dat womin needs to be helped into carriages, and lifted ober ditches, and to hab de best place everywhar. Nobody eber halps me into carriages, ober mudpuddles, or gibs me any best place!

And ar’n’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed, and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ar’n’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear de lash as well! And ar’n’t I a woman? I have borne thirteen chilern, and seen ’emmos’ all sold off the slavery, and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ar’n’t I a woman?

Den dey talks ’bout this ting in de head; what dis dey call it? Intellect, dats it honey. What’s dat got to do wid womin’s rights or nigger’s rights? If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yourn holds a quart, wouldn’t ye be mean not to let me have a little half-measure full?

Den dat little man in black dar, he say women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wan’t a woman! Whar did your Christ come from? Whar did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothin’ to do wid Him.

If de fust woman God ever made was strong enough to turn de world upside down all alone, dese women togedder ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now dey is asking to do it, de men better let ’em.

‘Bleeged to ye for hearin’ on me, and now ole Sojourner han’t got nothin’ more to say.

Source: Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a Woman?” “Ain’t I A Woman?” Sojourner Truth Virtual Institute.


Corbett, P S., et al. U.S. History. Houston, Texas Minneapolis: OpenStax College, Rice

University, Open Textbook Library, 2014. (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

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