Colonial Virginia - Wrapup
From Indentured Servitude to Slave Labor
I found the explanation about the economy of colonial Virginia changing from indentured servitude to slave labor (from early 1600s to mid 1700s) to be a useful component of teaching colonies to middle schoolers. I usually describe indentured servitude briefly in this unit, explaining how people had their ship passage paid for to the New World in exchange for working for a period of years after that to pay off the debt. What I will add going forward, however, is the larger concept of the economy of a particular society being built literally on the backs of impoverished people. In Virginia's case, it was poor white English people for whom passage in exchange for a new opportunity seemed like a good deal (though for many it was a brutal existence, as evidenced by the letter in this module), but with the availability and advertisement of slaves ships from Africa (and discontent of white servants such as Nathaniel Bacon, the work (agricultural) economy transitioned to an even more impoverished work force in the form of slaves, who were regarded as property and not human beings.
I am going to rethink my entire approach to Colonial Virginia. I will apply my new found understanding of servitude to the curriculum. I think it is important for students to understand the process that it took to form the institution of slavery. I think that slavery is such a shocking concept to teach students that it would be better understood if I included the rich details from this module into the curriculum.
Textiles and Tobacco Connections to where I live and work in Modern Virginia
In my Re-Think part of this module, I mention the colonial outfit I see on the homepage as the other artifact / example of material culture that I "connect to." And I apologize that I'm referring to that when it seems that this clothing will be in the next section. In my "World Connections" course, we make connections to tobacco and textiles, as these were major commodities of the Danville City/Pittsylvania County region clear up until the past twenty years or so. I have found that plant-examples (like a tobacco leaf or cotton plants) and articles of clothing that kids can see and touch first-hand help draw them into the story and guide them into making their own connections to their own families' histories with tobacco and textiles. We also, in my World Connections class, make connections as to why these commodities have almost completely disappeared due to the textile industries going to China and tobacco falling into disfavor for health reasons.
In my Re-Think part of this module, I mention the artifact
I have already taught the colonial Virginia unit in my classroom, but our 20th century unit is beginning this week. I plan on reviewing the agricultural history of Virginia and tying it into the industrialized 20th century and how the abolishing of slavery changed the work force in the tobacco industry. The 20th century brought forth civil rights and women's suffrage in Virginia, which will follow a review of colonial life well.
I would, as I have in the past, show De Bry's engraving which did play up a plentiful land ready for the taking by the Englishmen. It built on the hopes and dreams of investors from the Virginia Company wanting to find riches. I would also use the primary document of the indentured servant begging his parents to pay off his servitude which really showed just how bad things were in the New World.
Life in colonial Virginia
Life for men and women in colonial Virginia varied greatly among social classes. An activity to help students understand this would be for them to recreate it. I would have each student randomly choose or draw a role. This could be a small landowner, a plantation owner, a slave, an indentured servant, an African woman or an African child. Giving them a set of prompts or questions, each student would research what problems and conditions these individuals may have faced and write about them in first person. They would then present what they learned and gleaned from the activity to the class.
I believe using the prints of the engravings by De Bry in the classroom will help students understand the attraction the Englishmen had for coming to the New World. Understanding what was depicted in the paintings versus reality for the colonists once they arrived will be memorable. Using the primary documents to allow students to decipher and read those first hand accounts will give the students a better feel for what life was like. Finding a DBQ unit on the settlement of Jamestown would be the best as it guides questions and allows students to analyze those types of documents.
Since I think Bacon's Rebellion tends to be skipped over quickly without students understanding the issues at hand, I would like to tie it into my Civics class. It would be interesting to have students research the causes of the rebellion and to decide whether it was really a rebellion directed against a corrupt government or whether it was mostly just poorer citizens trying to make a land grab at the expense of the natives. This could be done in a (tightly controlled and monitored) debate format. Students could then see that the development of Virginia's government did not just go in a straight line from Jamestown to the Revolution, but had to struggle and adapt along the way.
Too often our curriculum focuses on the people with power and how others relate to them. I need to do a better job telling the stories of women indentured servants and free and enslaved blacks in the colonies.
Applying information about Colonial Virginia
It is important for students to investigate and learn about the material objects used during the colonial times and how important they were to the survival of the people and the colony. One class activity that I have always enjoyed is having teachers from the Jamestown Settlement come and bring artifacts to the classroom for students to see, touch and hold in a classroom lesson. These lessons are a great teaching tool for both teachers and students.
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Beyond the Textbook: Colonial Labor
This page compares what textbooks say about labor in colonial America with the approach historians take which considers labor by women, Native Americans, and African Americans in addition to white males working outside the home. It also features primary sources that demonstrate the complexity of work in this period.
Slavery and the Making of America
This companion website to the PBS television show Slavery and the Making of America relates experiences of slaves in America featuring audio of oral histories collected through the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the 1930s.
Historian Ellen Holmes Pearson provides insights into the lives of teenagers in colonial North America.