Teaching Activity: Martha Washington and Slavery


Students will be better understand the role of slavery in the early history of America, and will understand the connection between chattell slavery and the Chesapeake economy.


Primary sources-found on the Martha Washington site

Computer with Internet access-used to view the short film "Martha Washington and Slavery"


1. Watch the introductory movie together as a class.

2. Allow students time to explore the primary sources collected on the Primary Sources page. These resources have been included because they relate to the role of slavery in the Chesapeake and Early America, as well as on the Mount Vernon plantation.

3. Using the Ona Judge story and artifacts from the collection (brass buckle, sewing implements, etc.) have students consider the problem of perspective. Instruct students to write an essay comparing the ways elites (i.e. George and Martha Washington) and enslaved (i.e. Ona Judge) saw the institution of slavery. The essay should include primary sources to make their arguments. Some questions to guide their essays might be “How could Martha Washington have been so surprised at Ona Judge’s actions? Did Martha’s belief that the Washingtons were kind slaveholders make any difference in her perspective? Does Martha Washington’s perception represent the thinking of other slaveholders? Why, or why not?”