Lesson Plan: Overview

Slave Auctions in South Carolina

Grade Level: 8th


Academic Standards

Standard 8-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of South Carolina and the United States by Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

8-1.3 Summarize the history of European settlement in Carolina from the first attempts to settle at San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesfort, San Felipe, and Albemarle Point to the time of South Carolina’s establishment as an economically important British colony, including the diverse origins of the settlers, the early government, the importance of the plantation system and slavery, and the impact of the natural environment on the development of the colony.
8-1.6 Explain how South Carolinians used natural, human, and political resources to gain economic prosperity, including trade with Barbados, rice planting, Eliza Lucas Pinckney and indigo planting, the slave trade, and the practice of mercantilism.
Social Studies Literacy Elements
L. Interpret calendars, time lines, maps, charts, tables, graphs, flow charts, diagrams, photographs, paintings, cartoons, architectural drawings, documents, letters, censuses, and other artifacts

Historical Background Notes

Slavery in America began in Jamestown around 1619, but the history of African enslavement began in Africa during a much earlier time. Africans' journey into slavery began on the"Dark Continent" itself with Africans enslaving Africans. Eventually Arabs would come from the east to create a lucrative trade in slaves with African chieftains. When the New World is discovered the Africans would become the workhorses of colonization.

The journey into slavery was as cruel and torturous as the institution itself. It involved greed, warfare, and eventually a misunderstanding of what slavery in America was like as compared to slavery in Africa. While slavery was an institution in Africa, it was not one based on race and the idea of inferiority. Instead slave status was based on conditions in life such as crime, debt, and tribal warfare. Once the Arabs and Europeans became participants, African slavery was exported to the Americas and became race related.

Enslavement began with capture by slave traders. Millions of Africans were driven hundreds, thousands of miles to what came to be called the Slave Coast after being kidnapped from their homelands. The trip was inhumane with the use of leather ties, wooden yokes, iron shackles, and chains. Once reaching the coast, the Africans were delivered to slave factories or barracoons for keeping until ship captains arrived to purchase their human cargoes. The captains and their emissaries checked the people for disease, blemishes, deformities, and strength. They made their deals for those selected. Rum, iron bars, etc. were items traded for human flesh. Once purchased the Africans were removed from the barracoons and branded, chained, thrown into small boats, and delivered to the waiting slavers anchored off the coast.

The part of the journey into slavery that was the worst was the"Middle Passage". The horrors were gruesome. There are many accounts such as"Amistad" and others found on the pbs.org website if you wish to read more. Millions of Africans died during the Atlantic crossing. Some slavers delivered their cargo to the West Indies where the Africans were seasoned (trained in plantation life); others were taken directly to the colonies. Charleston was the main port of entry for slaves coming to America.

Upon arrival at Charleston, the Africans were unloaded at Sullivan's Island to be cleaned, prepped, disinfected, and quarantined before entering the city. There was great fear of contagious diseases and epidemics such as small pox spreading through the city. Charleston had suffered many such calamities during her history. The poor conditions on board slavers made epidemics a strong possibility.

Africans would be delivered to the auction warehouses where plans had been made for auctioning. Most auctions were public. Fliers were posted and notices sent to newspapers announcing the date, time, and specifics about the cargo. The slaves could be previewed. The Africans were put on the block just like animals. The treatment was very humiliating. Families, tribal members, friends were separated as the planters or their buyers made their purchases. Auctions were also held to sell groups of slaves from plantation to plantation and from the estates of planters. The price a slave brought depended on such factors as sex, age, health, need, skills/talents, and availability.

Important to note: slavery sustained Southern cash crop agriculture by providing labor necessary for growing and harvesting vast quantities of agricultural crops for world markets. In early colonial days, rice ruled the roost, so to speak, in South Carolina, but by the 1850s, cotton was king. Cotton production was labor intensive, and by the eve of the Civil War, cotton prices were at all time highs. South Carolina plantation owners profited greatly from a system that factored the cost of slave labor as a cost of production. Further, oppressive race-based slavery maintained political and social order in a state with a White minority population.


Primary Sources
  • P.J. Porcher & Baya" List of a Gang of Forty Four Negroes Accustomed to the Culture of Cotton and Provisions", Page 1

    (Slave Auction Announcement and Record of Sale), February 8th,1859, South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, South Carolina.
  • P.J. Porcher & Baya" List of a Gang of Forty Four Negroes Accustomed to the Culture of Cotton and Provisions", Page 2

    (Slave Auction Announcement and Record of Sale), February 8th,1859, South Carolina Historical Society, Charleston, South Carolina.



    Secondary Sources
  • Africans in America, http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/home.html
  • Botsch, Carol Sears. African-Americans and the Palmetto State. Columbia: South Carolina Department of Education, 1994.

    Lesson Plans

    Slave Auctions in South Carolina gives students an introduction to the subject of slavery, taking a close look at slave auctions. The lesson will take one or two sixty-minute class periods.
    1. In a lecture, the teacher will introduce the topic of slavery (see Historical Background Notes, Africans in America, and African Americans and the Palmetto State). This lecture will provide context for learning about slave auctions. The lecture will include information about the economics of cash crop agriculture and how slavery provided the labor necessary for sustaining Southern cash crop agriculture.
    2. After lecture and discussion, students will examine P.J. Porcher and Baya's auction announcements and record of sale.
    3. From the Porcher and Baya document, students will create a frequency table, which includes the following categories: Age (e.g., 0-10, 11-20, etc.), Gender, Qualifications (e.g., Field Worker, Domestic Worker, Skilled Craftsman, etc.), and Costs (e.g., $1-$49, $50-$100, etc.). To complete the exercise students will tabulate frequencies for the categories.
    4. Next, students will create bar graphs and pie charts, illustrating the data from their frequency tables.
    5. Next, students will analyze their tables, charts, and graphs to answer the following questions:
    a. What was the correlation between the following: age and price, gender and price, qualifications and price?
    b. What conclusions can you make about the skills and qualifications of slaves?
    c. What conclusions if any can you make about the health and care given slaves?
    6. Finally, using lecture notes and information from the Porcher and Baya exercise, students will write a one-two page paper that explains some of the economic factors of slavery. Papers should discuss how slave labor fueled the Southern cash crop economy and how income is derived from labor by focusing on the following subtopics:
    a. Cash crop agriculture,
    b. World markets,
    c. Costs of production, including labor as a cost of production,
    d. Slavery as a means to maintaining political and social control.

    Teacher Reflections

    The lesson I have chosen to reflect upon is titled Slave Auctions in South Carolina. The lesson begins with a detailed look at the practice of African slave trade. I have developed a unit on the history of African slavery in America starting with a look at the history of slavery among the Africans themselves. This lesson is just one in a series of lessons dealing with the practice of slavery and its consequences. The topic of slave trade and auctions generates a lot of class discussion and questions. The focus of the lesson was to get the students to look at the people who were enslaved and auctioned in terms of their gender, talents, age, and even prices brought at the auction. The purpose was to have the students gain a better understanding of the people and their circumstances and the correlation between variables such as age, gender, and skills and the price paid for slaves at auction. Each student was given a copy of one of four broadsides that represented Auction Announcements and Records of Sale at auctions that took place during the 1850's in Charleston, South Carolina. The broadsides included the list of slaves to be auctioned and information about them including money paid for their purchases. The students were to create charts based on the information provided that would enable them to tabulate the number of male and female slaves. They needed to create ranges of ages based on the records, and figure the number of males and females in each age group. They were required to tabulate the qualifications/types of work of the slaves according to domestic, fieldwork, and skills/trades. They were to use their tabulations to create graphs to represent the information. Creating and interpreting charts and graphs are important PACT skills.

    This should have been a very simple activity, but it was frustrating for me as well as the students. The students enjoyed looking at the broadsides and reading the information about the slaves. It generated many questions, such as:"Was January a male or female name? How did the slaves get these strange names? What was a cooper? They auctioned babies?" These questions I anticipated, but I did not anticipate students' lack of skills in math. We had made charts and graphs in class before, but we had not used as many variables. They were quite confused at first, so I finally drew the tabulation chart for them. After they had the chart they could easily complete it. Most of the students could then take the information they had tabulated and create bar, line, or circle graphs, but some still had problems with mathematical computation.

    I will use this lesson again, but with some changes. I will start off by providing them with the chart for tabulating their data, although eighth graders should be able to create their own tabulation chart. I will also provide all of the students with the same auction broadside instead of using four different ones. I think these changes will decrease my frustration level as well as the frustration level of the students.

    The students were very interested in the history of slavery and the slave trade and I will continue to use the other lessons that I have developed on the history of African American slavery. I had one student who owns horses and attends modern horse auctions. She was a good resource for the students because she described for them the auction practices used with animals today. As a result of this, another change that I would make in the lesson for the future would be to add a description of modern auctions. The students would then compare the auction process of animals today to that of the slave auctions of the 1700-1800's. They could write a paper on the inhumanity of slavery and slave auctions.

    I think the lesson was effective, although it got off to a rough start. The students understood the auction process and the inhumane practice of slavery. They did complete a tabulation chart and create graphs using their tabulated information. I had no idea that math skills would be such a problem. Next year I will use a lot more math in teaching social studies.

    Student Assessments

    Assessment for Slave Auctions in South Carolina is performance-based. Teachers can rate student letters and speeches and the class debate according to a standards-based rubric. Student performance can be rated as Unacceptable, Needs Work, Good, or Excellent. Teacher comments may include rationale for marks and suggestions for improvement.

    Examples of Students Work

  • Student Table, front
  • Student Table, back


    Jackie Canaday
    DuBose Middle School, South Carolina