Lesson Plan: Overview

Where Do We Go From Here?

Grade Level: 8th

Excerpt from Middleton Pardon 1865

Academic Standards

Standard USHC 8-4: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact of Reconstruction on the people and government of South Carolina.

8-4.2 Summarize Reconstruction in South Carolina and its effects on daily life in South Carolina, including the experiences of plantation owners, small farmers, freedmen, women, and northern immigrants.

Historical Background Notes

After the Civil War, the South went through a period called Reconstruction in which the political systems, economies, and areas damaged by the war were rebuilt.  Before the war, landowners had a ready source of labor for their crops with slaves.  Southern landowners faced a dilemma in the form of how to keep their plantations productive after the war ended.  In order to receive a pardon from the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, they had to agree that they would not utilize slave labor for their crops any longer.  Over the next decade, a system where former slaves provided the labor required for a successful plantation emerged.

Freed former slaves did not see an end to their suffering when they were granted emancipation, or even when the war finally ended.  With the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth amendments, slaves were given their freedom, made citizens of the United States, and, for men, given the right to vote.  The Reconstruction plans pursued by different groups in power allowed for constitutional and legal rights of the former slaves, but did nothing to provide a way for those people to make a living.

The freedmen no longer had to work on the plantations, but they were not given an alternative way to earn a living (Tindall and Shi 1996, 755).  In 1865, General Sherman tried to give emancipated slaves land in the coastal areas and islands of Georgia and South Carolina by promising “forty acres and a mule” (Divine et al. 2002, 517).  “As one black man in Mississippi put it: ‘Gib us our own land and we take care ourselves; but widout land, de ole massas can hire us or starve us, as dey please’”(Tindall and Shi 1996, 756).  Unfortunately, President Johnson and Congress did not support any plan that effectively confiscated and redistributed land of former confederates (Divine et al. 2002, 517)

Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau in March of 1865 in order to help alleviate the problems facing the former slaves (Kennedy et al. 2002, 480).  Local sections provided provisions, clothing, and fuel to the freedmen and their families.  The Bureau took over abandoned and confiscated land to rent out in forty-acre plots to freemen who might be able to buy it within three years.  Freedmen and women used the Bureau to negotiate labor contracts with planters.  Providing medical care and setting up schools were other services offered by local bureaus.  Finally, the Bureau had its own court to deal with labor disputes and land titles, as well as supervise trials that involved former slaves in other courts.  Congress did not give the Freedmen’s Bureau much power and it expired in 1872 (Kennedy et al. 2002, 480).

Four clear options emerged for the freedmen and women after the war: obtain land, move, work for former masters, or sharecrop.  Some freedmen were able to obtain their own personal land to work to support themselves and their families.  Others opted to move to the cities and the North to find work that was not agrarian based.  Directly after the war, plantation owners established a contract labor system that employed their former slaves (Divine et al. 2002, 518).  The freedmen and women would commit to work on the plantation for a year in return for fixed wages, which were often paid with part of the harvest.  Sharecropping eventually extinguished the contract system (Divine et al. 2002, 518).  Sharecroppers worked a piece of land and received a fixed share of the crop, which was usually one-half.  Landowners did not have to invest much at the beginning of the season and the tenant shared the risk of the crop.  At first, freedmen saw sharecropping as a step up from wage labor because they felt it was on the way to landowning.  Actually, the system turned into another form of servitude because the tenants had to live on credit from the landowner until the cotton sold.  Often sharecroppers never quite caught up to what they owed because the landowners would charge high prices and interest, which they took out of the crop earning at the end of the season leaving little or no profit and usually a debt they could try to work off the next season.


Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

  • Divine, Robert A., et al.  The American Story.  New York: Longman, 2002.
  • Kennedy, D. M., et al.  The American Pageant, 12th Edition, vol. 2: since 1865.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002.
  • Tindall, G. B., and D. E. Shi.  America: A Narrative History, 4th Edition.  New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1996.

Lesson Plans

  1. Discuss the agricultural based economy in the South before and after the Civil War and the purpose of Reconstruction; as well as pardons and to what the Southerners had to agree after the war to retain their property and livelihood. (See Primary Sources).
  2. Ask about how crops will be planted, tended, and harvested without slave labor.
  3. Read the freedman’s contracts and discuss how the differences freedmen would experience under the contract rather than being slaves or personal landowners. (See Primary Sources.)
  4. Extend the point to how a similar contract would apply in their lives.
  5. As a class, list the items the students feel are necessary for everyday existence.
  6. As a class, list the expectations parents have and the tasks that need to be done for the family daily, weekly, and monthly.
  7. Have students create a “Freedman’s Contract” for a home situation – handwritten (good penmanship) or typed and signed by themselves and their parents.

Teacher Reflections

I decided to see how the idea of sharecropping was conceived.  That search started with the labor system in the Post-Civil War era, the freedmen’s contracts, and how freed slaves were employed on the plantations owned by their previous masters.  Another consideration was how I could link it to my students and what might interest them.  In that vein, I began searching the Middleton family papers at the Historical Society because I teach at Stratford High School, which is located in Crowfield Plantation, once owned by members of the Middleton family.  Although I did not find information pertaining to our plantation, I located not only a draft for a freedmen’s contract for a Georgetown plantation owned by a member of the family, but also another paper that appears to show the beginning of change from contracts to sharecropping.  How exciting!  From there, sparked by a methods discussion during the first week and a similar example in our portfolio description packet, I decided the best way to help students experience the contract was to have them make one of their own with a parent. 

While it would have been best to teach the lesson to one of my classes, but with time constraints and the volume of material that is covered in world history, I had to present the lesson to another teacher’s class following their discussion of the Civil War.  Fortunately, several of the students had taken my class the previous year, so I had a connection with them.  In fact, of the few who chose to complete the assignment, since it was not for a grade, were mostly my former students.  I feel as though I was able to convey to them my excitement about using primary documents from our area that were pertinent to their ongoing class discussions and that the lesson went well.  I do not feel as though the students would have enjoyed looking for the documents at the Historical Society themselves because it can be tedious work, but did appreciate the opportunity to view what I had come across.  Students eagerly participated in helping catalogue what tasks they should perform as a member of a family, as well as what benefits they should receive in return for completing those tasks.  The contracts I received showed the students put thought and effort into the assignment, as well as getting their parents on board.  In the future, I think that it would be more beneficial to teach the lesson to a class with whom I have a report, as well as the opportunity to make them accountable for the information discussed. 

Student Assessment

  1. Copy of notes for notebook
  2. Class participation in discussion and list-making
  3. Labor Contract Grade Sheet

Examples of Students Work


Jennifer Condon
Stratford High School, South Carolina