The Coming of the Civil War in Virginia

Lesson 2: Western Territories Divide Americans: Abolitionists Work Hard

Time Estimated: 2 days



Students will:

  1. Restate their understanding of the prior day’s learning of the differences between the North and the South.
  2. Predict the possible fates of the Western Territories of the United States regarding slavery.
  3. Demonstrate an understanding of abolition.
  4. Identify the roles of Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown.
  5. Create an abolitionists’ pamphlet.




  • Transparency of map of the U.S. as of 1850 (color in Northern States blue and Southern States gray, leave border states and Western Territories blank).
  • Vocabulary words written on cards to go in pocket chart or on strips with magnets to go on board: abolition, abolitionist
  • Talking points for teacher reference on differences between the North and the South, slavery issues in the Western Territories, abolition, Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, John Brown.
  • Matching abolitionists worksheet.
  • Computer access for students (if possible).
  • Mounted posters using primary source pictures of Turner (not available, so use general slavery grouping), Tubman, and Brown.
  • Overhead projector and markers.
  • Plain bond paper, pencils, crayons.
  • Vocabulary sheet.
  • Tri-fold Abolitionist pamphlet.
  • Pictures of the front and back of an example pamphlet.




1st day

  1. Hook: Place map of U.S. in 1850 back on overhead and begin shading in territories gray, wipe off, shade in blue, wipe off —
    • Look confused at class and ask what should you do?? Listen to their ideas;
    • Conclude with them that like them, different people at this time in history had different ideas about slavery and the territories.
    • Review day one learning — differences between the North and South, using the bulletin board.
  2. Put up vocabulary words: abolition, abolitionist.
    • Explain that to understand how people felt differently, it helps to know these words.
    • Seek responses to find root word (abolish) and possible meanings.
    • Write definition for abolition on board, have students add to their vocabulary sheets: “a movement or campaign to end slavery”. Study the “ist” suffix — abolitionist: “a person who worked to end slavery”.
  3. Ask students in what part of the country would you find “abolitionists” at this time in history — to their response North, question would there be any abolitionists in Virginia? (Don’t answer yes or no)
  4. Tell students they are going to study three important abolitionists.
    • Hand out matching sheets. Say the three names together (Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman, John Brown).
    • To find out which paragraph explains which person, they can do one of these:
      A. Go to the PBS Africans in America search page. Enter each name with quotes in the search box. Click on the first links for each and read about the person.
      B. Go to an electronic encyclopedia or regular encyclopedia and read about each person.
      C. Use the index of their text book to locate the people and read about them.
    • Assist lower level students with the first search.
    • Ask advanced students to find additional information about the three.
  5. When all have finished, ask them to share the information about Nat Turner. Let one student read that paragraph.
    • Ask (advanced) students if they found any additional information about him.
    • Conclude: Then there were abolitionists in Virginia.
    • Continue with John Brown and Harriet Tubman.
    • Ask students to keep sheets in social studies folder for later use.
  6. Put U.S. map back on overhead. Point to territories.
    • Explain that abolitionists wanted the territories to be free states. Depending on time, you can go into the fact that John Brown led abolitionists to create an uproar in Kansas about this idea.
    • Ask what students think the slave states would want to happen in the territories. Explain that some planters and farmers may want to move into these areas to farm some day.
  7. Wrap-Up: On the map, draw a division creating Kansas and Nebraska. Explain that the idea of free and slave states in the west was beginning to divide the nation. Congress finally agreed that each new state could decide for itself if it would be a free state or a slave state. That’s why John Brown went to Kansas.
  8. Tell the class that abolitionists were very important to our history. Tomorrow they will create a tribute to the three abolitionists they met today.

2nd day

  1. Hook: Pass out copy of primary source of John Brown Song. If you are the type, sing it as you do. Question: What kinds of people are songs written about? (They may feed back Santa Claus, etc. — or real people of today). Explain — after John Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, this song was written about him and people in many parts of the United States sang it. (Sing song, if desired — tune of Battle Hymn of the Republic)
  2. Today the class will prepare another way to remember the 3 famous abolitionists studied in the last class. (list or place posters on board as students recall Turner, Tubman, and Brown.)
  3. First, place them on class timeline (or create one), from Nat Turner’s Rebellion in 1831 to Harriet Tubman’s work with the Underground Railroad (1850-1860) to Brown’s Raid 1859.
  4. Show class the tri-fold Abolitionist pamphlet and prepare for writing. Give them paper and help them fold. Write ABOLITIONISTS down the front center. Mark each of 3 inside panels as Turner, Tubman, and Brown. These pictures of the front and back of an example pamphlet may be helpful.
  5. Students may use the information from the day before and drawings you have posted — or they may do additional research at these websites to gain the information they want to include in each panel. Each should also have a drawing of the person or something they did:
  6. Assess students as they work to see if they relate the three as abolitionists wanting to end slavery. Provide assistance as needed. Work with weaker students to include basic facts only. Encourage advanced students to write summaries of important things about each in their own words.
  7. Collect and display tri-folds.
  8. Wrap-Up: Ask students to pretend they were living in Virginia in 1830-1860. Ask them to stand if they thought they would have helped Turner, Tubman and/or Brown. (If time, explore the whys)




Differentiate the lesson by letting students create their tri-folds with the amount of information they feel comfortable adding. Weaker students may only write the sentence or two from the prior day. Advanced students could include summaries about what the people did in their own words.