Teaching Activity: Martha Washington and Slavery


Students will be better understand the role of slavery in the early history of America, and will understand the connection between chattell slavery and the Chesapeake economy.


Primary sources-found on the Martha Washington site

Computer with Internet access-used to view the short film "Martha Washington and Slavery"


1. Watch the introductory movie together as a class.

2. Allow students time to explore the primary sources collected on the Primary Sources page. These resources have been included because they relate to the role of slavery in the Chesapeake and Early America, as well as on the Mount Vernon plantation.

3. Have students compile a list of the tasks slaves at Mount Vernon would have performed for the Washington family (cooking, chopping wood, farm work, animal care, etc.).

4. Have students write a short essay analyzing the economy at Mount Vernon. Some questions to guide their thinking include “What services would the Washingtons have had to pay for, had there not been slaves to do the work? What were the expenses associated with keeping slaves on a plantation? Could the plantation have been profitable without slave labor?”