Nineteenth Century World History: 1800-1810 {Transatlantic Slave Trade and its Abolition}

transatlantic-slaveryThere was a whole heap of interesting stuff going on in the early 1800’s.  Great Britain was indeed great and steaming forth as leaders in the industrial revolution (steaming?  Geddit?!); the East India company is growing, increasing Britain’s influence over the world; Napoleon becomes known as an invincible leader; Morphine is isolated, making opium a lot more stable and therefore desirable causing many problems at home in Britain and abroad; Beethoven becomes recognisable as one of the world’s leading composers and, finally, thanks in no small part to William Wilberforce, slavery trade is declared illegal in Britain.

What to focus on?  It was actually a no brainer.  We had never covered slavery in our history lessons and, over the years, had collected a decent number of resources to create an excellent mini unit study.  So slavery it was!

Slavery Read Aloud Text


“I would write something that would make this whole nation feel what an accursed thing slavery is.” Harriet Beecher Stowe

This well known book from Harriet Beecher Stowe was an instant best seller in its time.  She wrote it using first hand accounts she had collected over the years.  The story follows the life of Tom and Harry, an enslaved man and boy, resold into slavery by their owners the Shelby family to pay off their debts.

It contains two stories which run concurrently alongside each other: a story of a highly religious man (Tom) who chooses not to run away in order to keep his family together and of a mother (Harry’s mum Eliza) who runs away with Harry to keep him safe.

The story concludes with the freedom of one and the death of the other at the hands of the slave master.  Whatever the case, Stowe’s goal of bringing to light the atrocities of slavery is met with sometime brutal honesty.

“…the enslaving of the African race is a clear violation of the great law which commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves”  (Harriet Beecher Stowe)

I found this surprisingly hard to read because of the vernacular of Uncle Tom and Aunt Chloe.  Charlotte had no such difficulty and so I had her read a lot of it out loud.  It was particularly amusing to hear her go-to accent was one of a northern English man!  I have to say, this was one of the least favourite book we have ever read aloud.  I just couldn’t keep up with the story well enough to enjoy it.

Stories of slavery from people who lived as a slave

Slavery Read Alone Books

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Whilst the older ones read through these books on their own, I did some Five in a Row studies with the little ones using Follow the Drinking Gourd and Who Owns the Sun?  I read the following book out loud to the younger children whilst the older ones read it alone.  It is quite graphic in some places and I wanted to be sure there would be time for discussion with my younger two:


And the older children, Gary and I watched 12 Years a Slave (DVD) which I had bought whilst we were in Northern Ireland:


William Wilberforce and the Abolition of Slavery

I had a couple of resources already available:

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They had already read the first book about well known Equiano, and I managed to buy the second book for a penny (!) so added that to our studies.  This was particularly useful because it put Equiano and his own rhetoric against Slavery bang in the middle of Wilberforce’s protestations.  Which was handy because no study into slavery would be complete without a study into the man who fought tirelessly to end it.  Gary read The Kidnapped Prince out to the little ones at bedtime.

And speaking of Wilberforce, we continued on with a study of the man using the following resources:


Again, we already owned the first book which is a book all about Wilberforce and his forty-five year fight against slavery, and the film, Amazing Grace, which is a terrific portrayal of a man who was a world-class statesman, whose deep Christian convictions led to the abolition of slavery (I really, really recommend this dvd).

Activities Related to Slavery

  • We all carried out an in depth hymn study on Amazing Grace by John Newton.  We used some of his own words to learn more about the heart of this man and I took the children through this Bible study of Amazing Grace.
  • Each child made their own copy work of the poem as we were studying it.  Sometimes writing something down makes it stick 🙂  We all learnt it off by heart:jane-austin-8
  • Thomas dug a little deeper into the character of John Newton, explaining how he and Wilberforce were united in their fight against slavery.  We had a family worship session using Amazing grace as our core song.  Thomas led it, presenting all he had learnt about the man and his place in the history of transatlantic slavery:slavery-8 and then leading the family in worship with Amazing Grace, as well as choosing other pertinent songs which talked about the freedom we find in Christ:slaves-9
  • Lillie created a piece of devotional art based on her study of Amazing Grace.  She stood up and told us why she had chosen to create using the techniques she used:slaves-11
  • Charlotte created a poem using the title ‘Amazing Grace’ as a starting point.  I wanted her to use the same stanza as Newton but make the poem about Transatlantic slavery in some way shape or form (this is the first three verses):slaves-10  We then sung it to the music of the original Amazing Grace (which was much harder than it sounds!): slaves-8

Whilst the older ones were busy with their work, the little ones were enjoying their own age appropriate slavery themed activities such as interviewing Harriet Tubman (click on picture to be taken to the post all about Harriet):


And pretending to be runaway slaves (again click on picture to be taken to the post on the underground railroad):


We all had a great week learning all about transatlantic slavery throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  In our next study {1810-1820} we will be covering Jane Austin and her times.

Sharing with Kris


  1. I have had difficulty with reading Uncle Tom’s Cabin my myself. I am glad to hear that it wasn’t just me. Wonderful study!

  2. I have yet been able to fully read (and comprehend) “Uncle Tom’s Cabin!” It is actually on my list to read this year! And I 100% agree that “Amazing Grace” is a phenomenal and meaningful DVD!!! We have not let our younger children watch it yet, but I may add it to the curriculum when we get to the Civil War unit here in a few months. Thank you for the inspiration!!!

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