African Americans & the Revolutionary War

Week 15: African Americans during the Revolution


READ: K – 6:  Phoebe the Spy by Judith Berry Griffin OR Phoebe and the General by Judith Berry Griffin

7 – 8: Chains: (Seeds of America) by Laurie Halse Anderson


Note (Please read the following information to your children):  The first Africans that came to America were treated as servants rather than slaves.    They worked for a period of years and then earned their freedom.  They got along well with white servants and intermarried with them.

            Eventually however, more and more workers were needed to run large plantations in the South.  Black Slaves were relatively cheap and could not go to their government for help, so demand for them increased.  During the 1600’s slavery became a life term rather than a form of indentured servitude.  Marriage between races was forbidden.  Children of slaves became the property of their master.  As time went on more and more Africans were kidnapped from their native countries and forcibly taken by ship to America.   They were packed together in the bottom of  boats with no bathrooms.  Many died or became very sick on their long trip across the ocean.   When they reached America, they were lined up and auctioned off to bidders like cattle.  Most worked in the fields in the South, helping with rice, indigo, tobacco, and cotton.  Others worked in the homes as servants/slaves in both the Northern and Southern colonies.  Many were treated cruelly and worked ruthlessly by their masters.

                A small percentage of African Americans earned their freedom, thrived in the colonies, and did much to benefit society.  A black scientist named Benjamin Banneker wrote almanacs and created his own clock.  A black woman  named Phillis Wheatley wrote beautiful poetry.  Others owned successful businesses.

                During the Revolutionary War some enlisted as soldiers.  Great Britain promised freedom to blacks who helped fight against the Patriots.  Many Patriot masters promised slaves their freedom if they fought for them in the war.  Others saw the confusion of the war as an opportune time to flee from their masters and make themselves free.  White soldiers and black soldiers often fought side by side.  Unfortunately, after the war many who were promised their freedom in return for service for their country were never given it.  Others were freed, then kidnapped because they were black and forced into slavery again.  During and immediately after the war, Northern colonies began passing laws to eliminate slavery.  However, slavery remained a way of life in the South until the Civil War.

                Unfortunately many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave holders themselves, including George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.  Some of these men even believed that slavery was wrong, yet setting their own slaves free was not something they could bring themselves to do.  They depended too much on their services.



  • T/F African Americans were always slaves in the colonies.  (false)
  • T/F Before the Revolutionary War there were only slaves in the Southern colonies. (false)
  • What type of work did slaves do? (worked on plantations, worked as servants, were soldiers)
  • What type of work did free African Americans do? (some owned businesses, were soldiers, scientists, poets, etc.)
  • How did slaves come to America? (kidnapped from Africa and taken by boat)
  • How were slaves purchased? (sold at auctions)
  • How were slaves involved in the Revolutionary War? (some fought for the British in return for their freedom; others fought for the Patriots in the place of their master; some fought because they believed in the ideals of the Revolution)
  • Just after the Revolutionary War, laws were passed to set slaves free in what part of the colonies? (North)
  • Did any of the signers of the Declaration of Independence have slaves? (yes)

Questions for grades K – 6:

  • In your own words tell the story of Phoebe the spy.
  • How did she save George Washington’s life?
  • Were Phoebe and her father free or slaves?
  • Do you think they knew George Washington had slaves?
  • Do you think they still would have helped him if they knew?

Questions for grades 7 – 8:

  • In your own words tell the story of Isabel.
  • Do any of the events in this book surprise you?  Explain.
  • Do you believe Isabel’s life as a slave was typical?  Why or why not?
  • A famous quote is written at the beginning of each chapter.  Did any of these quotes surprise you?  Why?

ACTIVITIES: K – 3: Take a sheet of paper and fold it in half and then in half again.  In each of the four quadrants, draw a scene from the story Phoebe The Spy (or Phoebe and the General).  Write a sentence under each picture explaining what is happening in that scene.

4 – 8:  Go to this link from Teaching American History Md by clicking HERE.   (You will need to scroll down on this site.) Use this information to do the following worksheet.  (Click to Open): Slavery During the Revolutionary War


Copyright July 27th, 2013 by Gwen Fredette


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Filed under Colonial America, Revolutionary War

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