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An Introduction to the Middle Passage: The Slave Trade and the Amistad Rebellion

Created by:
Vince Sera
Oakcrest High School

Doug Cervi
Oakcrest High School

Joe Bordonaro
Mullica Township Middle School

Slave Trade

Grade Level:
9 to 12


This activity begins with a Power Point presentation about the slave trade which incorporates a short video on the Amistad Rebellion. After a class discussion, students will read and interpret primary documents from Amistad court case and write a paragraph speculating about the outcome of the Supreme Court decision. Students will then be told the outcome of the trial and class will conclude with a discussion concerning this outcome.

The purpose of this lesson is to bring home to students the horror of slavery as exemplified by one court case, and to explore how a skillful lawyer was able to use the American legal system to achieve freedom for slaves who gained control of the slave ship Amistad but were later recaptured.

Historical Context

Beginning in the early 1600s slaves were brought from West Africa (where an existing slave trade between European sea powers and West African chieftains was flourishing) across the Atlantic Ocean to various destinations in the Americas. The dominant nations involved in this trade were England, Portugal, and Spain.

Conditions at both the collecting points along the West African coast (in barracoons) and aboard ship were brutal. Slaves were crammed into the holds of the ship and chained into place. Many died in transit although the economic self-interest of slavers mandated that they afford at least minimal care to their human cargo. Poor diet and restrained conditions weakened slaves so that successful uprisings were rare, although much feared.

The majority of slaves were bound for Brazil where they worked in mines and plantations. The West Indies islands also absorbed a significant per cent of the trade, and smaller numbers of slaves went to the English colonies of North America.


Atlantic slave trade, middle passage, slave rebellion, economics of the slave trade

Goals and Objectives:

After completing this activity, students will be able to:

1. Learn about the Amistad Revolt and its significance in the debate over slavery.

2. Examine court transcripts and letters for direct evidence about the Amistad captives and their leaders.

3. Reflect on the process by which historians arrive at an understanding about past individuals and events.

4. Gain experience in working with illustrations, official documents, and other primary materials as resources.

5. Compare a film narrative with historical documentation.

6. Identify the countries involved in the Middle Passage and reasons for their participation.

7. Learn some key words of the "Mende" language.


STANDARD 6.1 (Social Studies Skills): All students will utilize historical thinking, problem solving, and research skills to maximize their understanding of civics, history, geography, and economics.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics): All students will know, understand and appreciate the values and principles of American democracy and the rights, responsibilities, and roles of a citizen in the nation and the world.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics)A.2: Formulate questions and hypotheses from multiple perspectives, using multiple sources.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics)A.3: Gather, analyze, and reconcile information from primary and sources to support or reject hypotheses.

STANDARD 6.2 (Civics)A.4: Examine source data within the historical, social, political, geographic, or economic content in which it was created, testing credibility and evaluating bias.

STANDARD 6.4 (United States and New Jersey History): All students will demonstrate knowledge of United States and New Jersey history in order to understand life and events in the past and how they relate to the present and future.

STANDARD 6.5 (Economics) All students will acquire an understanding of key economic principles.

Equipment, materials and other technology needed:

Smartboard with projector and hookup to a computer. Computer should have the capability to project sound files.

Several handouts/worksheets:

1. An "APPARTS" (Author/Place and Time/Prior Knowledge/Audience/Reason/The Main Idea/Significance) worksheet for students to use when evaluating a primary source document

2. A worksheet with questions pertaining to the first scene of the movie Amistad.

3. A worksheet showing a map of the route of the slave ship Amistad.

4. A worksheet showing the numbers of slaves transported during the period of trans-Atlantic slave trade and their destination.

5. A worksheet containing three primary source portraits of Joseph Cinque.

6. A primary source document (The Captured Africans of the Amistad, 1839) with an accompanying "APPARTS" worksheet lined paper for students to write a short paragraph containing their speculation on the outcome of the Amistad trial and the reasons for their speculation.

A large world map.

A television to show clip from Amistad movie.

Details of Activity
Warm up/Engagement (5-10 minute activity at the beginning of class to focus students, introduce the essential questions that will be asked by the teacher, and get the students interested in the lesson): Students will be presented with a list of destinations where slaves were taken and a list of the number of slaves taken there. Students will attempt to match the number of slaves with their destination. Teacher will ask students why most slaves were sent to Brazil and other Latin American areas and relatively few were sent to the British colonies in North America. (Much greater numbers of slaves were sent to Brazil and other Latin American destinations because of the great demand for labor in those areas to work in mines and on plantations. Because of the difficult conditions there, few colonists would voluntarily work there.) Developmental Sequence (Step-by-step description of everything to be done in class along with the alloted time for each activity. How should students use the materials distributed to achieve the learning objectives? Activities will be described -group or independent-, questions for students, or instructions for presentations. Students will be asked to anayze the sources discussing their reliability, the biases of the author, the intended audiences, and their historical significance): 1. Students will view Scene 1 ("The Insurrection") of Amistad - about 5 minutes. Students will be given a worksheet with a list of questions to answer as they view the scene to insure that they pay close attention. 2. Students and teacher will go over the answers to the "Scene 1" worksheet - about 5 minutes. 3. Students will be given a worksheet with the numbers of slaves transported during the period of the Atlantic slave trade and their destinations and will be told to try and match up the numbers with the destinations - about 7 minutes. 4. Students and teacher will go over the answers to the "Destinations" worksheet and will discuss possible explanations for most slaves being transported to Brazil and other Latin American areas - about 9 minutes. 5. Students will view a GoogleMap presentation showing the route of the slave ship Amistad - about 5 minutes. 6. Students will view three primary source portraits of Joseph Cinque and will engage with a classroom discussion on the differences and similarities of the portrayal of Cinque in the three portraits - about 6 minutes. 7. Students will be told of the capture of the Amistad by the U. S. Navy, the imprisonment of the "mutineers/slaves", and their trial. They will then be asked to write a three paragraph composition which will include their speculation on the outcome of the trial and their reasons for their speculation - about 15 minutes. 8. As a closing exercise, students will listen to a letter written by one of the imprisoned slaves to one of the people who helped them gain their freedom in court - about 2 minutes. Total time = about 54 minutes Meeting Individual Needs (How will lesson accomodate students with strong or weak backgrounds, different learning styles, and different personalities?): The lesson will incorporate a Power Point presentation to aid visual learners. Maps will also be incorporated into the lesson as visual aids. A short video clip of the Amistad uprising will also be presented to the students. Information will be read out loud by the teacher to aid students' comprehension. A podcast will also be created to help students who rely heavily on audio information. Practice/Reinforcement (Description of exercise(s) or homework assignments that will help students reinforce, re-think, and internalize this lesson): (1) Students will be given an untitled map of the Western Hempishere and be asked to guess how the slave trade was routed. They will correctly fill in the route as they experience the Power Point. (2) Students will be assigned to write a short essay responding to "I would/would not have rebelled if I were a slave, and why or why not?" Evaluation (How will students show mastery of what they are to learn? Did the lesson fulfill its objectives?): 1. Students will complete all worksheets in class and will engage in classroom discussions on these worksheets. Students will complete a paragraph which will include their speculation on the outcome of the Amistad court case and their reasons for their speculation. This will provide students with an opportunity to demonstrate higher-level thinking. 2. The instructor will give the class a written test in which each student will be asked to describe the specific causal factors that led to the revolt instigated by Cinque and the other slaves aboard the Amistad with expectations referencing (1) the year in which the Amistad revolt took place, (2) at least one location involved in the revolt/slave trade, and (3) the names and roles of at least two individuals involved in the revolt.

Practice and Reinforcement

CINQUE ADDRESSING HIS COMPATRIOTS(1839): a lithograph published soon after the Navy's capture of the Amistad, as a souvenir of the event. PORTRAIT OF JOSEPH CINQUE (1839); a color lithograph showing the "leader of the gang" posed with his machete * THE CAPTURED AFRICANS OF THE AMISTAD (1839): a newspaper cartoon showing Cinque and his companions diverting themselves in prision* JOSEPH CINQUEZ (1840): illustration which accompanies a "biographical sketch" of Cinque and is said to be based on casts made of his face while he was in prison* *academic.cun.ac.za/forlang/bergman/realamistad/cinque.htm "Incited by the Love of Liberty" 1839 Court appeal of prosecutor Archives.Gov

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