What Happened to Slaves When their Owners Died?


Perhaps no situation presented more uncertainty to the already uncertain lives of slaves than the deaths of thier owners. As you know, slaves were legally like any type of property: slaves could be bought, sold, rented, and given to others. But at the same time, slaves were people, and slaveowners did not always think of them the same way they thought about their livestock, tools, or books. In this activity, you will read the wills of some slaveowners to see for yourself how slaves were treated both as property and as people by their owners.

As you read these wills, try to imagine what the slaveowners' feelings were about their slaves. Then try to imagine what the slaves might have thought when they heard that their owners had died.

If you are working at a computer, you should be logged on to the address your teacher has posted. Click on the names you have been assigned to to go their wills. Read the wills carefully and fill out the attached chart.

Last Will and Testament of Mary M. Burton (http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/personal/wills/will2.html)

Will and Testament of Mary G. Calhoon (http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/personal/wills/will4.html)

Will and Testament of Henry Kenneday (http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/personal/wills/will5.html)

Will and Testament of Robert Christian (http://valley.lib.virginia.edu/personal/wills/will9.html)

If you are not working at a computer, your teacher will have given you a print out of one or more of these wills.

As you read the will(s), fill out the attached chart.




Mary M. Burton

Mary G. Calhoon

Henry Kenneday

Robert Christian

Did they give their slaves to people? to whom?





Did they say what the heirs could do with the slaves or with the wealth that the slaves created for their new owners? Explain.





In what ways were the slaves treated like other types of property in wills?





In what ways were slaves treated differently from other types of property?






This material was developed by Alice Carter for the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education.