Students will examine how the Revolutionary War affected the institution of slavery in the new nation and the ways that slavery shaped domestic and foreign policy in the early Republic. Maps to Key Concepts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10
What else should my students know?
7.A In most Northern states, a combination of gradual emancipation laws, court decisions and other laws prohibiting slavery began the process of eliminating slavery after the Revolution. Racism delayed and drew out plans for emancipation so that formerly enslaved people were denied legal equality and economic opportunities.
7.B In the Chesapeake (British colonies that later became Virginia and Maryland), the egalitarian rhetoric of the Revolution had a mixed impact. For white Virginians, the law had a fairly limited impact on slavery despite the decline of the tobacco industry. Portions of the free black and enslaved populations used the ideas of the American and Haitian Revolutions as inspiration for Gabriel’s Rebellion, a planned uprising by enslaved people that was to take place in Richmond in 1800.
7.C The Haitian Revolution (1791–1804) inspired enslaved Americans and frightened their enslavers. The United States, where enslavers were disproportionately represented in all branches of government, refused to recognize Haiti’s independence from France until 1862.
How can I teach this?
- Northern racism after emancipation is visible in examples of the racist laws that emerged to limit the freedoms of African Americans. The resource bank of the PBS series Africans in America provides an overview in the essay “Race-based Legislation in the North.”
- The Prudence Crandall School for Negro Girls in Connecticut offers more evidence of the racism that persisted in the North even after emancipation. The school became the target of mob violence when Crandall began educating young black women in the 1830s.
- The legislation that emancipated enslaved people in Northern states may also be examined. In Pennsylvania (1780), Connecticut (1784), Rhode Island (1784) and New York (1799), these laws required children born to enslaved mothers to serve their mothers’ enslavers until they reached the age of majority (between the ages of 18 and 25). In New York, slavery did not end until 1827.
- Two Virginia laws, from 1782 and 1806, provide evidence of a varied response to emancipation. Initially, Virginians seemed enthusiastic about allowing individuals to manumit, or free, enslaved people. The 1782 “Act to Authorize the Manumission of Slaves” allowed enslavers to grant freedom to those they enslaved without legislative approval. However, after the plan for Gabriel’s Rebellion was discovered, white Virginians became wary of a large free black population. In 1806, the state legislature amended its emancipation policy to require that, once they were emancipated, freed people would have to be deported from Virginia.
- Accounts of Gabriel’s Rebellion show the ways that free and enslaved black people used Revolutionary rhetoric to plan acts of resistance to slavery. Multiple accounts note that Gabriel Prosser, the leader of Gabriel’s Rebellion, planned to create a flag with the motto “Death or Liberty”—a slogan of the Haitian Revolution that also echoed American revolutionary Patrick Henry. One 1804 document points out that a conspirator in Gabriel’s Rebellion reportedly likened himself to George Washington.
- Many online resources will assist instruction about Haiti―not only the Haitian Revolution but also the nation’s history and present.