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Taking a Stand in the Antebellum Era

Primary Source Teaching Activity


What does it take to stand up for an idea?

Why do some people choose to take action to address a wrong, while others choose to stand by and watch?

What do these primary sources reveal about how people in the Upper Valley of Vermont and New Hampshire took action to address the problem of slavery during the antebellum era?

Thinking Skills:  Contextualizing documents; synthesizing primary source docs to answer an essential question.

Prior Knowledge Needed: These primary sources provide insight in to how men and women in the Upper Valley participated (or didn’t participate) in reform movements during the antebellum era. An overview of issues related to anti-slavery and women’s reform would be helpful–especially the Underground Railroad, the Fugitive Slave Act (1850), The Kansas/Nebraska Act

Instructions to students: Primary sources are divided into different ways people took a stand

Step 1: Source the document

  • Who wrote the document?
  • When was it written?
  • Where was it written or published?
  • Why was it written?

Step 2: Closely read the document

  • ¬†Underline key words the author uses
  • ¬†Summarize what the document is about

Step 3: Contextualize the document

  • What was going on at the time that might have influenced the person or people who created the document or are described by it? Can you think of any noteworthy events or trends?

Step 4: Make a claim taking into account some of these questions

  • How did the individual stand up for a principle or a belief?
  • What were some challenges or risks involved in taking such a stand?
  • What choices did the individual have in choosing to take a stand?
  • What might have been some consequences and effects of their actions?
  • Why do you think the person acted the way s/he did?

Source Set 1:

Norwich Female Abolition Society-excerpt Taking a stand both personally and financially

The mission statement of the Norwich Female Abolition Society- unconditional abolition and elevation of Negro.

VT Chronicle, 9.5.1854

Source Set 2:

This packet connects to migration to Kansas. Background on Joseph Savage

Joseph Savage of Hartford Taking a stand by taking action

Joseph Savage initially goes to Kansas to provide inspiration through song, is part of the first wave of “pilgrims” to go to Kansas for the antislavery cause. He’s from Hartford, VT.

Hutchinson Family, GET OFF THE TRACK  Taking a stand through music

Kansas Emigrant Song Taking a stand through music

Joseph Savage’s group sang this song as they crossed the Shawnee Reserve

Source Set 3:

Sometimes people take a stand for something you might disagree with. These articles are about an incident at the integrated school Noyes Academy in 1835 and the Colonization Society.

VT Chronicle-Noyes Academy, July 1835 Taking a stand through mob rule

VT Chronicle-Noyes Academy, Aug 1835 Taking a stand through mob rule

Editorial, Claremont Eagle c. 1864 Taking a stand but not in my backyard

Source Set 4:

Taking a stand even when the action is illegal. Link to James Wood Journal (complete)

James Wood journal excerpt   Link to complete Wood journal 

UGRR in Norwich

Green Mountain Freeman-fugitive in Hartford, 1844

Source Set 5:

Rutland Herald-Mob against May, 1836 How hard is it to take a stand when your neighbors disagree with you? This is a paper that is not in favor of antislavery. Could be a good point of view exercise.

Chauncey Knapp Letter 1839¬†Taking a stand through direct action.¬†He is harboring a fugitive slave in the VT State House. (GREAT TO USE IN DISCUSSION OF FUGITIVE SLAVE LAW.). It is also important to note that in this letter he is saying he’ll put the fugitive with a family so he can go to school and then be apprenticed as a printer. Not running to Canada–living openly in Vermont.