K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

LEARN NC was a program of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Education from 1997 – 2013. It provided lesson plans, professional development, and innovative web resources to support teachers, build community, and improve K-12 education in North Carolina. Learn NC is no longer supported by the School of Education – this is a historical archive of their website.

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Often our impression of slavery is one of slaves toiling in the fields of a large plantation, but slaves in North Carolina had diverse experiences. Although some North Carolina slaves did work on large plantations, many more worked on small farms. Others labored as skilled artisans, performed domestic work, worked in the shipping industry near the coast, or were able to “hire out” their time and work for themselves. In this lesson, students will read excerpts from slave narratives written by North Carolinians from different parts of the state. Taking what they’ve learned from the narratives, students will then create a map illustrating the differing types of labor associated with each region.

Learning outcomes

  • Students will recognize the variety of slave experiences.
  • Students will understand how slavery developed in each region of North Carolina.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

Two to three hours

Materials needed


  • Students should have basic background knowledge of slavery in North Carolina.
  • Teachers should read through the slave narrative excerpts in preparation for the lesson.

Note: The slave narrative excerpts used in this lesson have been selected for grade-level appropriateness and avoid the most shocking themes of the slave narratives, such as extreme violence and sexual abuse. Links to the full-length narratives, available on the Documenting the American South website, are provided in the sidebar. If students choose to read further in the online slave narratives, teachers may wish to lead an additional discussion on some of the difficult themes they may encounter, such as violence, sexual abuse, and use of racist language, before students read the narratives.


  1. As a class, brainstorm images that come to mind when you think of slavery. Record these ideas in a place where you can refer to them again later. If the class comes up with images such as cotton fields, plantations, etc., ask where they have seen or heard of these images.
  2. Explain that while many slaves did work on large plantations, slaves in North Carolina did a variety of jobs. Depending on where they lived, slaves may have worked on small farms, performed domestic labor, been skilled artisans, worked in the boating and sailing industry, or even become entrepreneurs.
  3. Tell students that they will be reading parts of slave narratives, or autobiographies written by slaves to share their experiences, from slaves who lived in North Carolina.
  4. Have students read the excerpts from the slave narratives, taking notes as they read. Then ask students to plot the hometown or home county of each narrative’s author on their maps.
  5. Have students illustrate the different types of labor described by the slave narrative authors in the area of the map where slaves may have performed that type of labor. Students may need to do additional research about slavery in different regions of the state to complete their maps; possible sources are identified below in the Supplemental Information section.
  6. As a class, look back at the list created in step one. How do students’ initial impressions of slavery compare to those recorded on their maps?


Students should have correctly plotted the locations of the slave narratives (Raleigh, Wilmington, Person County, New Bern, Franklin, Camden County) as well as correctly illustrated the different types of slave labor, demonstrating an understanding of the diversity of slaves’ experiences in North Carolina.

Alternative assessment

Rather than creating a map, students may choose a region of the state and write a brief slave narrative as a slave living in that area. Students should demonstrate understanding of the regional differences of slavery by writing about the type of labor a slave may have performed in that region.

Supplemental information

These texts can be used by teachers or students to further research slavery across the state.

  • North Carolina Essential Standards
    • Social Studies (2010)
      • Grade 8

        • 8.H.1 Apply historical thinking to understand the creation and development of North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.1.1 Construct charts, graphs, and historical narratives to explain particular events or issues. 8.H.1.2 Summarize the literal meaning of...
        • 8.H.2 Understand the ways in which conflict, compromise and negotiation have shaped North Carolina and the United States. 8.H.2.1 Explain the impact of economic, political, social, and military conflicts (e.g. war, slavery, states’ rights and citizenship...

North Carolina curriculum alignment

Social Studies (2003)

Grade 8

  • Goal 3: The learner will identify key events and evaluate the impact of reform and expansion in North Carolina during the first half of the 19th century.
    • Objective 3.04: Describe the development of the institution of slavery in the State and nation, and assess its impact on the economic, social, and political conditions.