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Slave Resistance in Natchez, Mississippi (1719-1861) lesson plan


In their prior studies of American History, students may have been exposed to well-known slave revolts in Virginia led by Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. Students need to realize that similar acts of resistance and revolt occurred in Mississippi. This lesson will expose students to various ways that slaves in the Natchez area resisted bondage and will encourage them to consider the “price” of resistance.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1 and 3.


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.


Mississippi History Now article


Students will:

determine reasons why slaves would resist bondage;

categorize various types of resistance as passive or extreme;

relate events of a particular revolt, conspiracy, or other extreme resistance which occurred in the Natchez area;

suggest reasons why owners supported death as punishment for extreme resistance even though slaves were “valuable property;”

evaluate the “price” of resistance.


Ask students to think of other historical examples of people being held against their will: Hebrews by the Egyptians, Jews by the German Nazis, etc. Have students imagine themselves being a slave in early America or a Hebrew, Jew, or some other group in bondage at a particular point in history. Ask them to consider their situation and to write a few thoughts on paper indicating whether or not they would try to resist or to even escape. In small groups, students will share their work. Afterwards, ask them to add to their initial thoughts, indicating other arguments to support their position or even changing their position.

Tell students that slaves found many ways in their early days here to resist slavery. Ask them to brainstorm what they know about this topic; teacher will list on board. One purpose of this lesson is to expose students to the many forms of resistance employed by slaves in the Natchez area.



Students will read the on-line article with two purposes in mind:

to list reasons why slaves would resist bondage;

to list various methods of resistance.


In small groups, have students compare their lists and add to them as necessary. Have them reread the article to check their final lists for accuracy.


Students will participate in a class discussion during which they will offer their answers for the teacher to write on board or overhead. Additional clarification can take place at this time.


Students will determine whether the types of resistance would be classified as PASSIVE or EXTREME. This information could be noted in chart format.


Divide the students into groups to write a television news documentary. Assign to each of them one of the seven major conspiracies, revolts, or murders that occurred in Natchez. (They are listed at the end of the lesson plan.) Teacher may need to provide a rubric for students to organize their presentation.


After students have had enough time to prepare their news program, let them present to the class or video tape them outside of class to be used as time allows.


Position a large piece of paper on opposite sides of the room. On one paper, write a large + (plus) sign; on the other side, write a - (minus) sign. (You could use PRO and CON.) Read this statement to the class: “ In cases of resistance, slaves should be put to death.” Ask students to align themselves in the classroom based on their belief: some will be close to the + sign, showing their agreement; others will be in the middle, etc. Have students state reasons why they chose their position. After having some discussion, ask students if they would like to change their place along the continuum. (Usually they will want to put some “qualifiers” on the original statement.)


Have students think about the investment that a slave represented to the owner. After some further discussion, students will write in their notes their ideas about punishing slavery resisters and what it cost the owners.


Ask students to return to their chart and to add another column entitled PUNISHMENT. (See # 4.) After completing this information, ask students to consider the “price” of resistance and to respond to these questions: “Is resistance worth the price?” “Is the person who resists a hero?” “Is it more courageous just to accept one’s situation?” A meaningful, thoughtful class discussion should follow.


Ask students to look again at their initial thoughts regarding resistance (Opening the Lesson). They should write a short paragraph for evaluation relating some things they have learned, how their opinions have changed, etc.



Participation in class activities, discussions, group work


Chart completion


Presentation of news documentary



Students may wish to research other historical or more recent resistance movements. Some examples are MASADA; WARSAW GHETTO; CITIZENS’ COUNCILS; FRENCH RESISTANCE DURING WORLD WAR II; ANTI-APARTHEID MOVEMENT; ECOLOGICAL RESISTANCE GROUPS, ETC.


Slaves often used songs to convey hidden messages about resistance/escape plans. Students could “publish” a SLAVE SONG BOOK in which they collected the lyrics of some of these songs, often called spirituals. Examples include: “Steal Away,” “Follow the Drinkin’ Gourd,” “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” “Git on Board, Little Chillen,” “Wade in the Water.”


Pretending to be slaves, students could plan an escape and create a song or rebus to let others know of their plans.


Read a biography of Frederick Douglas, a slave who resisted and later became an important abolitionist leader.


Borrow one or both of the two videos below. Mississippi History on Loan videos can be borrowed free of charge by Mississippi public and tax-exempt private schools. To borrow a video, teachers should call the Manship House Museum at 601-961-4724 to request an order form. Ask for the Audiovisual Coordinator. Mississippi History on Loan is a service offered by the Museum Division of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.


“The South's Slave System” (30 minutes) produced by Dallas Telecourses in 1987


“Underground Railroad” (92 minutes) produced by Triage Entertainment, 1999


Seven extreme Natchez resistance actions:

1729 Indian Revolt
1731 Conspiracy
1776 Dunbar uprising
1832 Murder of Joel Cameron
1835 Revolt Plan and 1836 Fire
1857 Murder of Duncan Skinner
1861 Second Creek Conspiracy

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