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Colonial New York Slave Codes: Pedro's Walk

In this lesson students read a description of a slave's walk through colonial New York City and determine which laws he broke and which laws he followed. Students then write a journal entry from the perspective of either a slave or a slaveowner reacting to colonial New York's slave codes.

Objectives

  • Students will identify how choices slaves made in colonial New York City were shaped by slave codes.
  • Students will describe different perspectives, as either slave or slaveowner, about colonial slave codes.

Instructions

Step 1: Pass out and read aloud the narrative "Pedro's Walk." Then hand out "New York Burning: Liberty, Slavery and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan (Excerpt)" for students to read independently or in small groups. 

Step 2: Hand out the list of colonial New York slave codes. Students may be familiar with the codes from the activity "Colonial New York Slave Codes: Law and Order." Review the laws and, if they have seen them before, review their earlier reactions to the slave codes. Students can write their reactions to the slave codes in the space provided. 

Step 3: Ask students to determine which laws Pedro may have broken during his walk. Also ask students to identify any times where Pedro avoided breaking a law, and how. Discuss student responses. 

Step 4: Assign each student the identity of either a slave or slaveowner in colonial New York. Have students write a journal or diary entry from the perspective of their assigned identities, describing their reactions to the slave codes. Each journal or diary entry should cite at least three codes and give the author's reasons for defending or opposing the codes.

Historical Context

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the American colonies passed a series of increasingly strict laws, or slave codes, that restricted the freedom of movement and congregation of African and African American slaves. Though each colony had its own slave codes, codes generally forbid slaves from going out after dark, walking about without written permission of a slaveowner, meeting with large groups of other slaves, or possessing weapons. Such laws were designed to prevent the types of activities slaveowners feared would lead to rebellion. Though open rebellions were rare (New York in 1712 and 1741, South Carolina in 1739), slaveowners were perpetually suspicious of their slaves.

Source | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, 2010.
Creator | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning
Rights | Copyright American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Item Type | Teaching Activity
Cite This document | American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning, “Colonial New York Slave Codes: Pedro's Walk,” HERB: Resources for Teachers, accessed August 20, 2019, https://herb.ashp.cuny.edu/items/show/1376.

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