Abolitionists of Ontario: Fugitives & Freemen
- Media Type:
- A package of handouts, assignment questions, and an answers sheet around abolitionists in Ontario's history. All the readings are taken from two abolitionist newspapers published in Ontario in the 1850s: the Voice of the Fugitive and the Provincial Freeman. Some of the readings are anonymous, and some have authors from Canada and the States.
First, select the length or reading level you prefer. There are two reading levels: roughly grades 9-10 and grades 11-12. The earlier reading level handouts are shorter - one page only. The later reading level is longer - two, three, or four pages to each reading.
Then, select the readings.
There are four short readings that are examples of the kind of content produced in the abolitionist newspapers. They focus on Canada as a place to settle after escaping the States, and on continuing abolitionist work. You may want to pick one, two, or all four for your students to read individually, in pairs or groups, or as a class.
There are five longer readings - from two to four pages. They are longer articles and essays written for publication about the following subjects:
- Attempted Escape - a story of failed escapes from slavery and an account of numbers and rates of escape attempts
- Colored People in Canada - an 1851 account of the state of black settlements, aid to refugees, hardships, advantages, and needs in Canada, with an argument for settlement
- Fillmorism - a perspective on the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 and its effect, both good and bad, on the cause of abolition
- Fugitive Slaves in Canada - an 1854 account for Europe and other countries of the state of black settlements and an appeal for funds, with a description of how they'd be spent
- Ward's Perspective - an essay by Samuel Ringgold Ward on the varying support and political stances of abolitionists, with a review of optimistic statements and his refutations, and his advice for future economic advantage in Canada and the British Empire
Download and print as many copies as you need.
Then, download and print copies of the activity sheet for each individual, pair, or group to fill out separately or together. There are six questions to answer. The answer sheet is formatted either as one page or two pages, depending on how much detail you would like your students to get into - there are lots of potential answers for all of the questions, but you can supplement the readings with more details about the history of slavery in Canada and the United States.
Then, save a copy of the marking aid for yourself - it lists some likely responses your students will come up with. You're not limited to these answers, and there will be some points for discussion.
We have put all the one-page marking aids in one document, and all five of the longer readings in another.
The sixth question is an activity that involves a map. This could be a map found online and printed out, a map you already have in the classroom, or a digital map on Google or elsewhere on the internet. You can decide if you want students to work independently or together, as an in-class activity or homework, and whether you want them to mark up a paper map or submit a digital image of a map to you for review. You may wish your students to discuss the map activity as a class or in groups, and come to consensus before presenting their results.
If you wish to have students answer the questions out loud and lead a discussion about each part, it can be helpful to have students compare their answers from different readings.
For example, how is Canada presented in one reading versus another? What are words used to describe slavery in one reading versus another? Samuel Ringgold Ward, in "Ward's Perspective," argues that there was no way to abolish slavery peacefully. Do your students agree with this? Do your students think, based on the readings, that Canada was a good place for black Americans to settle? What are some other options (e.g. Liberia, free black States, the States after abolition) and which one is best?
Allow the students to debate their positions and consider the challenges as described by their classmates from readings they didn't do.
You can run this activity in-class or send it home as a homework assignment. If you'd like to include technology, you can send your students to the URLs attached to each item record and printed on each handout, where they can see more primary sources and explore other links related to the subjects.
Finally, once you've run this activity with your students, come back and tell us how it went! You can submit a comment on each item record, or send us a testimonial on the site as a whole. You can also get in contact with us by email or social media and send us your feedback and suggestions.
- These readings contain some outdated and pejorative language, and many words that your students will not understand. Frequently, black people are referred to as "negroes" - a word your students may be uncomfortable reading, and especially reading aloud.
Have a conversation with your students before they begin to help them find an alternative word to say out loud when they come across this term, such as "black" and "African American" and "African Canadian."
These readings also contain accounts of black people being murdered, beaten, attacked, and injured. You may wish to avoid the following readings if you do not want to include graphic langauge in your class:
- Attempted Escape (two-page reading)
- A Murder in Virginia (one-page reading)
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