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Runaway Indentured Servants

K-12 Objectives | Materials Needed | Procedures | Assessment | Standards

Discipline: U.S. History

Specific Lesson Topic: Comparison of Owners' Perceptions of Runaway Indentured Servants and Slaves

Methodology: Primary Sources


  • Students should be able to identify examples of how slave/indentured servant owners perceived slaves and indentured servants differently.
  • Students should be able to offer reasons why the owners held these different perceptions.
  • Students should be able to consider the ramifications the owners' different perceptions might have made in such issues as slave and servant treatment and education.

Materials Needed:

  1. Geography of Slavery in Virginia Project (internet connection)
  2. Student worksheet


Students can refer to the student worksheet
1. The teacher will introduce the topic of owners' perceptions of indentured servants versus slaves by having students respond to a journal question on the topic:
Example: Compare and contrast indentured servants and slaves. Consider some of the following issues in your answer:
What were their lives like?
What skills did they have?
What difficulties did they have adjusting to life in America?
2. Students will look at selected ads, all of which describe escaped indentured servants accompanied by escaped slaves. As students view the ads, they will take notes using the accompanying worksheet. Each student, or group of students, should look at several of the selected ads. The teacher may wish to allow students to search for additional relevant ads.
3. Students will attempt to draw conclusions as to owners' perceptions of slaves versus their perceptions of indentured servants, based on these ads.
4. Students may present their conclusions, which should answer the question, "How did owners perceive slaves, compared to how they perceived indentured servants?" in a persuasive essay, in an oral presentation, or in a role play/debate, in which students agree to argue different points of view.

Assessment for K-12:

Students should compare and contrast how owners valued slaves, compared to indentured servants, by first using a graphic organizer, with an area for similarities, and differences, in how these two groups were perceived.
Students should then hypothesize reasons for any differences in perception they found. Students should support their conclusions by using examples from the ads, as much as possible. Students should share their comparison/contrast chart, and their suggested reasons for differences in treatment, with the class in one of the following ways:

  • Persuasive essay or oral presentation, arguing their points of view- argue what differences and similarities in treatment they observed, and argue why these similarities/differences occurred.
  • Role play or debate, in which students argue why the ads portray the slaves and servants differently. Students could agree beforehand on what major arguments they will use. Students should support their arguments by giving examples of similarities and differences in treatment, as evidenced by the ads.


Virginia Standards of Learning

11.2 The student will compare the colonization of Virginia with that of other American colonies.

11.6 The student will analyze the causes and effects of major events of the Civil War and Reconstruction, including slavery;

11.17 The student will develop skills for historical analysis, including the ability to * analyze documents, records, and data (such as artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, historical accounts, etc.);

This module was created by Anthony P. Dralle of the University of Virginia.

Cheryl L. Mason and William G. Thomas

All Rights Reserved, 1999