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In the Classroom > African Americans Lessons

In Exchange for Rum

Grade Level: 4 - 6

Massachusetts History and Social Science Frameworks

Gr. 4 Learning Standards
Describe the climate and major natural resources of Central America and the Caribbean Islands and explain their relationship to the economy of those regions.

Gr. 5 Learning Standards
Explain the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the economy of colonial Massachusetts, using historical societies and museums as needed.
B. trans-Atlantic trade

5.12 Explain the causes of the establishment of slavery in North America. Describe the harsh conditions of the Middle Passage and slave life, and the responses of slaves to their condition. Describe the life of free African Americans in the colonies.

Summary and Objective

Students will:

  • understand that slaves were commodities of the Triangular Trade.
  • explore where some commodities originated from and went.
  • explore the various values of these items.

Needed for the Lesson

Images and maps to print:

Miscellaneous materials needed:

  • small piece of wood
  • container of salt
  • scrap of fabric (ideally linen or wool)
  • container of molasses
  • dried peas
  • china teacup

Teaching the Lesson

  1. Print one copy of the import/export images and cut out each image.
  2. Ask the class the following questions:
    • What does it mean to be a colony?
    • What are imports? Exports?
    • What do you know about the Triangular Trade?
  3. Using the North Atlantic Ocean map, review with students the major areas involved in the Triangular Trade. Include England, the west coast of Africa, the Caribbean and the American colonies.
  4. Set out the 4 maps of Trianglar Trade destinations (British Isles, Africa, Caribbean, 13 American colonies). It helps to group the American and Caribbean colonies maps together. Tell students they will be finding out about how some items fit into the Triangular Trade. Hand out items and images; use wood fabric, rum bottle image, glassware image, salt, peas, livestock images, salt cod image, molasses, teacup, sugar cone image. They can either take turns placing their item on the map where they think it originated and tell you where it went, or they can tell you where it originated and place it on the destination map. It might be helpful to ask the students with the sugar and molasses to report out first. Possible topics to discuss:
    • Observe the types of items (i.e. finished goods VS raw materials) imported or exported to or from the various destinations.
    • Discuss the purpose of a colony (to supply the mother country with raw materials and purchase finished goods from her).
    • Why don’t people in the Caribbean islands grow more food? Why do they need to import items such as peas and livestock? (They devoted all possible farmland to growing sugarcane, which would bring in more income than other foodstuffs.)
  5. Hand a child the picture of the slaves. Where were they from? Where did they go? (Explain that some slaves were taken to the Caribbean and some went straight to the American colonies.) Examine again the Triangular Trade items and discuss what might have been used to purchase a slave, aside from money. (Cloth, rum) A slave was a “commodity” of the Triangular Trade. What does that mean? (A trade item, the term is often used in regard to shipping; also something of use)
  6. Think about the use and value of each thing on the list of Triangular Trade items you examined. Read excerpts from “Northern Profits from Slavery” and “Triangular Trade”. What do you think is the most important trade item? Why? Explain how it might be said that sugar ran or fueled the Triangular Trade economy. Aside from using it in cooking, what was sugar good for? (It was used in making rum, which brought in money for buying slaves and finished goods)

Answers to step #4: mapping the triangle trade

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