Essential Knowledge 7

Students should know that enslavers exploited the many types of highly skilled labor of enslaved people for their own profit.


What Else Should My Students Know?

7.A Enslaved people did many different kinds of work depending on place, time and gender. 

7.B Although most enslaved people could not make money from their work, their enslavers did.

7.C The forced labor of enslaved people built many important buildings and institutions. European colonization itself depended on the work of Indigenous people and, later, Africans.


How Can I Teach This?

  • Ask students to examine the wide variety of work that enslaved people did by examining lists of the occupations of enslaved people, such as those published in the colonial-era Virginia Gazette. Which of these occupations are familiar? Which are not? 
  • Students should learn about the idea of profit and how it is generated. To begin this conversation, have students examine a business like a farm, explaining how it works and makes money by producing resources for sale. Then make connections to the role of laborers in a business and the importance of their pay. Ask students to think about why enslaved people were not paid and what impact that had.
  • Make sure to include the many kinds of work that enslaved women did, including fieldwork and work that many upper- and middle-class European women would not do. Students may not think about household labor as “work,” so it is important to encourage them to think about the labor involved in cooking, cleaning, making clothes and other household maintenance during these centuries.
  • Read trade books about the skilled labor of enslaved people such as Dave the Potter and Brick by Brick, encouraging students to discuss the ways that those workers created valuable commodities. 
  • Show students images of some of the important structures that were built by enslaved people, including the White House, the Capitol Building, major American railroads and Thomas Jefferson’s estate at Monticello.
  • When students study colonial times, make sure to include the experiences of enslaved people and Indigenous people living in and nearby the colonies students are discussing.


Return to the Teaching Hard History K-5 Framework

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