|Why do people settle new areas?|
The Puritans, Pilgrims, indentured servants, enslaved Africans, and others who helped to establish America’s original thirteen colonies faced many challenges while doing so. First there was the long grueling journey itself, followed by arrival in an unknown land filled with dangers and difficulties. What drove those who chose to make this new start? What did they hope to achieve? How did they wind up settling where they did?
What Primary Sources Can Tell Us about the English Establishment of the 13 Colonies
The colonists, and the Native Americans and enslaved Africans they lived among, left many clues about how and why they came to North America, and about the changes that their arrival caused.
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1789)
The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
First published in England in 1789, Olaudah Equiano’s book, The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African, Written by Himself is considered the first autobiography written entirely by an enslaved person. (An earlier autobiography—that of Ottobah Cugoano—was published in 1787, but historians suspect that it was heavily edited.) As the first of its genre, Equiano’s autobiography is believed to have greatly influenced later narratives, such as that of Frederick Douglas. During Equiano’s lifetime, the book was published in nine different editions. These include a German edition in 1790 and American and Dutch editions in 1791. The book was so popular its sales even rivaled those of Daniel Defoe’s bestselling novel of 1719, Robinson Crusoe.
Emaciated slaves crowded onto the deck of a sailing ship
The Life of Olaudah Equiano
Olaudah Equiano was captured from Essaka, his West African village, in 1756, at the age of 11. After surviving the tortuous Middle Passage, he was purchased in the West Indies in 1757 by Michael Pascal, a British naval officer. The two served together in the Seven Years’ War. Then Pascal brought Equiano to England, where he was educated and converted to Christianity. Later Equiano was sold, first to a commercial sea captain and then to an American trader. By finding ways to make money on the side, Equiano was able to purchase his freedom in 1766. He remained at sea for several years before returning to England in 1777 where he became a leading abolitionist. His description in 1783 of the massacre of 130 enslaved people aboard the British ship Zong gave the additional impetus to the growing anti-slavery movement. Equiano married an English woman in 1792. He died in London in 1797.
Histories of Enslaved People and Growth of the 13 Colonies: Creating Parallel Line Graphs
1. Review with students the differences between a biography and autobiography. Then distribute an excerpt from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano, or Gustavus Vassa, The African to each child. (An excerpt can be found on page 8 of the Primary Sources Handbook. A longer excerpt from the same section of the book is available at the above links.) Be sure students can identify the excerpt as a portion of a biography, as opposed to an autobiography. Ask students how they would know that this excerpt was taken from an autobiography, even if those words did not appear at the top of the page.
2. Have the class read the excerpt. Then have the students discuss their impression of Equiano from what they have just read. Encourage students to articulate what they might have written if they had been in his situation.
3. Share with students the additional background information about Equiano, provided above. Then, using these facts, work as a class to create a short time line of Olaudah Equiano’s life. You may wish to use the time line at this link as a model. Be sure the students understand how a time line can offer a quick overview of the events in a person’s life, or sequence of events in history.
4. If necessary, review with students what a double line graph is, and what they look like by referring them back to page 60 in their textbook. Then assign teams of students to one of the following individuals and the group of colonies that they are linked with:
Tell students that they will be working with their team members to create a double line graph about the individual they were assigned, and the region they lived in. (If you like, assign additional teams of students to other “People Who Made a Difference” from the colonial era, and their areas of origin, selecting from those on page 212 of your textbook.)
Be sure that the students understand that one part of their double line graph should provide an overview of the person’s life that their team was assigned. The other portion should show how these events relate to the history of the specific colony or region in which that person lived. Suggest to students that one of the most effective ways to do this activity is to divide their team into two groups: one half to research the life story of their subject, the other half to focus on significant events that occurred in the related colonies at that time. To get started, students might reread the relevant pages of their textbook. Recommend that students also use other sources, such as encyclopedias, published biographies, and the Internet.
5. Offer each team of students a strip of paper on which to create their final time lines. Once team members have recorded any and all significant events on the time lines, students should decorate the surrounding areas of the page with illustrations related to the events that they included.
6. Have each team present its double line graph to the class, pointing out the ways in which events in their subject’s life related to those taking place in the colony at that time. Finally, display the students’ completed time lines in a hall in the school. If possible, arrange the time lines so students can see how the events of different people and colonies related to one another.
Additional Primary Sources
Chapter 6: The Southern Colonies
Chapter 7: New England Colonies
Chapter 8: The Middle Colonies
Image credits: a. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-USZ62-54026; b. Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division: LC-DIG-ppmsca-05933