Media Resource

People Not Property: Stories of Slavery in the Colonial North

When we think of slavery in North America, we most often think of this institution in the U.S. South. But slavery was an integral part of the economic and social systems of the North, too, from the very founding of the British colonies in the New World. It was with forced labor from enslaved people, and the profits this labor generated, that colonists built homes, grew crops, ran businesses, and created institutions. The interactive documentary People Not Property, created by Historic Hudson Valley and funded in part by the NEH, documents the history of enslaved people, their enslavers, and the ways the institutions and practices of slavery shaped the colonial North and left legacies of racism and inequality that last to this day.

Classroom Connections

Guiding Questions

These questions can guide viewing of the introductory video embedded above as well as initiate discussions that can be developed over the course of the entire documentary.

  • Why is the story of slavery in the colonial North often glossed over or simply omitted from historical narratives about the colonial period and early republic?
  • What are the consequences of the omission of the history of slavery in the colonial North?
  • What are some of the challenges of documenting the history of slavery and the lives of enslaved people?
  • Why is it important to know the stories of individual enslaved people? How do those stories shape our understanding of slavery?

EDSITEment Resources

Read more about Philipsburg Manor and its community of enslaved people in this Closer Readings Commentary: Slavery in the Colonial North. The lesson plan Slavery and the American Founding: The "Inconsistency Not to Be Excused" (grades 6-12) works with primary documents created by the American founders to explore their views on slavery and how they shaped the new nation.