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Free People of Color in Colonial Natchez (1700-1798) Lesson Plan


The community of Natchez has a significant place, not only in the history of Mississippi, but also in the history of the United States. Its history, however, is frequently told through the accounts of white settlers. By looking at the role free people of color played in the settlement of Natchez, one has a more diverse and realistic perspective of the origin of Mississippi’s society. During the colonial period, the lives of free people of color were lived out under the control of the French, the British, the Spanish, and the Americans, as well as alongside their enslaved brothers and sisters. These free people of color used their understanding of colonial laws and imperial rivalries to carve out lives of liberty in an utterly hostile environment.

Curricular Connections

Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1 and 4

Common Core Standards

RH.2; WHST.2, 4, and 6

Teaching Level

Grades 7 through 12


Mississippi History NOW article, Free People of Color in Colonial Natchez
Summary squares: French, British, and Spanish and Square cards for closing activity (PDF)
Student notebooks
Board or screen
Data projector or Elmo projector


The students will:

  1. Examine the main ideas and supporting details of a text through group discussion
  2. Compose a summary
  3. Analyze an historical event

Opening the Lesson

The teacher will ask the students to make a list of what they know about the city of Natchez. Once the students have made their lists, the teacher will ask for student volunteers to share their answers with the class. More than likely, the students will not know that free people of color lived in Natchez alongside the institution of slavery during the colonial period. The teacher will tell the students that they will learn about free people of color who played a significant role in the history of Natchez.

Developing the Lesson

  1. The teacher will distribute to the students a copy of the Mississippi History NOW article, “Free People of Color in Colonial Natchez (1700-1798).” The article can be assigned as homework or class time can be allowed for reading the article. Students should be encouraged to annotate the article as they read.
  2. Once the students have completed the reading, the teacher will lead a brief discussion about the article by answering student questions about their reading and any unfamiliar vocabulary words found in the text. Next, the teacher will distribute to the students copies of the summary squares, which are attached to the lesson plan. In lieu of handing out copies to the students, the teacher can share an example of the summary squares with the students and instruct them to draw the summary squares onto a sheet of paper in their notebook.
  3. The teacher will explain to the students that they should list the main idea about colonial control for the respective European power listed. Next, the students should record three details from the article (e.g., quotes, facts, or phrases) in the blank portions of the squares that support the main idea about colonial control of Natchez. Once the students have completed their square, the students should compose a summary of the portion of the article that is relevant to the summary square. The information listed on the square should be incorporated into the summary. Each square and summary should be completed one at a time. The teacher may want students to complete the summary square and written summary based on the order the article addresses each colonial power (e.g., French, British, and Spanish). If available, the students can use computers to produce their own square diagrams and summaries.
  4. Once the students have completed their summaries, the teacher will facilitate a class discussion about the article by asking for student volunteers to share information from their summaries.
  5. For the next portion of the lesson, the teacher should reproduce the square cards found at the end of the lesson. The teacher should reproduce enough squares for a classroom set. The squares should be cut into individual pieces and placed in a container. The container can be passed around the room for students to select a card for the closing activity for this lesson. The students should be instructed to complete the assignment listed on their card.

Closing the Lesson

The teacher will ask student volunteers to share the answers to the questions on the square card.

Assessing Student Learning

Class Discussion
Student participation
Summary square responses
Written Summaries
Written responses to closing activity


Take a field trip to the historic home of William Johnson who started his life as a slave, but became of prominent free man of color in the town of Natchez.

Analyze entries from the diary of William Johnson, which can be found at the National Humanities Center website www.nationalhumanitiescenter.org.

Follow up this lesson with other Mississippi History NOW articles:

Compare and contrast the lives of free blacks during the colonial and territorial eras of Natchez.

Karla Smith is the Social Studies Department Chair at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Jefferson Davis Campus.



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