Featured Primary Sources

Slavery and Anti-Slavery

Nothing can enrich and enliven our understanding of the nation’s past, or dispel apathy about it, more powerfully than primary sources. The primary sources below open up a variety of viewpoints and have been chosen by master teachers specifically for use in the classroom. Affiliate School members can print a packet that includes an image of the document, photograph, or other resource, a transcript where applicable, text to place the document in historical context, and document-based questions. In addition, you may want to search the Gilder Lehrman Collection itself for other resources to enrich your lessons.

Detail from a Map of the Missouri Compromise

A Founding Father on the Missouri Compromise, 1819

Creator: Rufus King Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Aurelia Hale to her sister Sarah, June 11, 1821.  (GLC08934)

A northerner’s view of southern slavery, 1821

Creator: Aurelia Hale Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
American Colonization Society membership certificate, 1833, detail. (GLC)

American Colonization Society membership certificate, 1833

Creator: American Colonization Society Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
Henry Weeden to Watson Freeman, December 4, 1850 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

An African American protests the Fugitive Slave Law, 1850

Creator: Henry Weeden Curriculum Subjects: Economics Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Hugh Auld to Anna Richardson, October 6, 1846 (GLC07484.04)

Buying Frederick Douglass’s freedom, 1846

Creator: Hugh Auld, Walter Lowrie, and J. Meredith Curriculum Subjects: Economics Grade Levels:
Harriet Beecher Stowe to Prince Albert, March 20, 1852. (GLC)

Harriet Beecher Stowe sends Uncle Tom’s Cabin to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, 1852

Creator: Harriet Beecher Stowe Curriculum Subjects: Literature Grade Levels:
Barber, John W. (1798-1885) A History of the Amistad captives

John Quincy Adams and the Amistad case, 1841

Creator: John Quincy Adams Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
“$2,500 Reward!,” Mississippi Co., Missouri, broadside, August 23, 1852. (Gi

Runaway slave ad, 1852

Creator: John Means and R. E. Stanley Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Enoch M. Duley, “Two Hundred Dollars Reward!” broadside, KY (GLC06377.01)

Runaway slave ad, 1860

Creator: Enoch M. Duley Curriculum Subjects: Economics, Geography, Government and Civics Grade Levels:
“178 Sugar and Cotton Plantation Slaves!” J. A. Beard & May, New Orleans, LA, 18

Slave auction catalog from Louisiana, 1855

Creator: J. A. Beard and May Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
Frederick Douglass to Hugh Auld, October 4, 1857 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

“I love you but hate slavery”: Frederick Douglass to his former owner, Hugh Auld, 1857

Creator: Frederick Douglass Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
J.W.C. Pennington to unknown, April 29, 1851 (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

“The whole land is full of blood,” 1851

Creator: James W. C. Pennington Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:

Primary Sources from Other Sub-Eras

Letter from John S. Mosby to Sam Chapman, June 4, 1907. (GLC03921.21p1)

A former Confederate officer on slavery and the Civil War, 1907

Creator: John S. Mosby Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Charge of the Massachusetts 54th, Currier & Ives, 1863. (GLC)

African American soldiers at the Battle of Fort Wagner, 1863

Creator: Currier & Ives Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:

An African American soldier’s pay warrant, 1780

Creator: the State of Connecticut Curriculum Subjects: Economics Grade Levels:
"Life of George Washington--The farmer,"  by Jumius Brutus Stearns (LOC)

George Washington on the abolition of slavery, 1786

Creator: George Washington Curriculum Subjects: Economics, Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9
 John Brown, “Address of John Brown to the Virginia Court..." December 1859

John Brown’s final speech, 1859

Creator: John Brown Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Abraham Lincoln, speech fragment concerning the abolition of slavery, ca. July 1

Lincoln on abolition in England and the United States, 1858

Creator: Abraham Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Abraham Lincoln, Delay of execution for Nathaniel Gordon, Feb. 4, 1862. (GLC)

Lincoln on the execution of a slave trader, 1862

Creator: Abraham Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:
The Hon. Blanche Kelso Bruce of Mississippi, ca. 1870 (Library of Congress)

Nominating an African American for vice president, 1880

Creator: James Milton Turner Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:

Patriotic Postal Covers: “Lincoln & Davis in 5 Rounds,” 1861

Creator: J. H. Tingley Curriculum Subjects: Art Grade Levels:
Census results, New York State, ca. 1800. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)

Slavery in the New York State census, 1800

Creator: Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels:
Samuel Wood, Injured Humanity; Being A Representation of What the Unhappy Childr

The horrors of slavery, 1805

Creator: Samuel Wood Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels:

The “House Divided” Speech, ca. 1857–1858

Creator: Abraham Lincoln Curriculum Subjects: Government and Civics Grade Levels: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13+
Mahala Doyle to John Brown, November 20, 1859. (GLC07590)

“Bleeding Kansas” and the Pottawatomie Massacre, 1856

Creator: Mahala Doyle Curriculum Subjects: Grade Levels: