African American History Is American Hstory
African American History Is American History
African American History Is American History 


TEACHING AIDS - Introduction


I have created these teaching aids because I believe that it is important that teachers, educators parents, and students understand the vital role that African Americans played in the history of our country.




PART 1  

Four Lesson Plans with attached bibliography. Each Lesson Plan covers a different period of American history and describes the way that African Americans contributed to that period.  



Two skits targeted for students from middle school to high school.  I created these skits so that teachers can involve their students in some fun projects around black history.       





Lesson Plan 1 describes the role of African Americans in the struggle leading up to the American Revolution. (For access see below)


Lesson Plan 2 explains the vital role blacks played in the 1836 Seminole Indian War. (For access see below)


Lesson Plan 3 tells of  Mary Louverstre -  The woman who saved the Union Navy.  (For access click here)


Lesson Plan 4 is the story of The Underground Railroad in the South and its impact on our nation. (For access click here)


Lesson Plan 5 describes The Underground Railroad as a Great Civil Disobedience Movement that destroyed slavery. (For access click here.)



                                                                      PART 2 - TWO SAMPLE SKITS


CHANNEL I NEWS.   This skit tells the story of the rescue of Ruth and Thorton Blackburn by Detroit's   Underground Railroad.  (For access click here)


BLACK SEMINOLES. This skit illustrates Lesson Plan 2, The 1836 Seminole Indian War. (For access click here)





I am also inviting teachers, educators and parents who would like an individually designed Lesson Plan or skit for any era of American history through the Civil War to contact me. I would be happy to work with you to create something that would meet your need to help educate our children.  


My book The Underground Railroad; A Movement That Changed America is only one example of how important African American history is to the study of American history. The other Lesson Plans in these web pages are other examples of the impact black history has on the overall history of this nation.


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American seamen were the first group of colonists to mount a campaign against what they regarded as British injustice. This is the story of their struggle and how these early battles convinced colonists that they needed independence from England


Merchant ships, whalers, and fishing fleets were important aspects of the colonial economy. Because ship captains were always searching for crew members they never asked questions when someone applied for a job. The sea was always a refuge for fugitive slaves. One third of the colonial sea faring crews were black.


Because ships were at sea for many months at a time a powerful bond was created between these black and white shipboard companions. Sailors were always engaged in collective struggles with ship captains and even ship owners over the kind of conditions aboard ship such as food, pay, and discipline.


Black as well as white sailors might emerge as leaders in the constant struggles seamen had with ship owners and captains to improve their working conditions. By the time of the Revolution this brotherhood in Massachusetts had developed into a protective organization called the Sons of Neptune.





In the 1700’s England dominated the Atlantic Ocean and its navy was feared all over the world. The treatment that navel midshipmen received was appalling. The pay was abysmally low, the food was rotten and many times unfit to eat. Because sailors were always trying to escape these disagreeable conditions navel officers frequently refused to allow midshipmen to leave the ship when the vessel reached shore. There were reports that some British sailors had been held aboard their ship for five years. The result was that the British navy found it almost impossible to recruit seamen. They had to find another way to find enough crew members to staff their naval vessels. They chose impressment. This is the way the system worked. A ship’s captain or sometimes a naval fleet needing to fill their quota of crew members would send press gangs ashore. Their orders were to kidnap enough colonists to fill their quota.


Here is just one example of how disastrous the ongoing threat of Impressment was, not only for seamen, but for every colonist living in a seaside community. In a single night in 1757 eight hundred men were kidnaped off the streets of New York City by press gangs.


British Press Gangs seized Americans for forced labor on ships. Image source-



Seamen organized in order to fight back. One of the most famous of these battles took place in 1747 Commodore Charles Knowles sailed into Boston harbor to restock his ship before he set sail for the West Indies. That night he also sent his press gangs ashore to replenish his depleted crew. Fifty men had just been rounded up when three h​​undred seamen spread the alarm throughout the city. Before the press gangs could force their captives to board the Lark they were confronted by thousands of Bostonians led by the seamen. The captives were quickly freed and they fled back into Boston and were hidden by sympathetic citizens. Next the colonists seized the Lark officers as hostages. They also snatched the sheriff and put him in the town stocks. Finally thousands of Bostonians marched into the Provincial Council Chambers to prevent the Council from lending support to British naval officials. As a final act of defiance the mob invaded the home of Massachusetts Governor William Shirley and told him that if he did not remain neutral they would return and hang him. The Lark sailed away without the fifty kidnapped sailors.


Seamen led battles against press gangs in port cities in every colony in America. Gary Nash historian and author of The Unknown American Revolution believes that Sam Adams as a young boy watched the Knowles Riot and speculates that it helped Adams develop the philosophy that the natural rights of man justifies violent direct action against oppression. In the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson lists Impressment as one of the main grievances that colonists had against Great Britain






Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the revolution, was part of the brotherhood of the sea. The Sons of Liberty was an organization born during the struggle against the Stamp Act. When Sam Adams realized that polite protests such as letters and petitions had failed to convince Parliament to repeal the Act he remembered the success of the Knowles Riot. Could this Riot be the inspiration for his creation of The Sons of Liberty?

The Sons took to the streets in major cities throughout the colonies. In many of the letters sent by colonial governors to British officials they complain about the bands of unruly seamen who were leading the demonstrators.


After the repeal of the Stamp Act the colonists were faced with other coercive taxes. The Sons of Liberty responded by organizing a campaign to ban the sale of all British imports. Sons of Liberty patrolled the streets of cities and towns to enforce the non- importation ban. In 1770 the British government responded to this threat to their authority by sending two regiments to Boston , the city that they regarded as the center of colonial defiance.


On the night of March 5 tensions between these troops and the citizens of Boston were escalating. For weeks Sons of Liberty had led a campaign to harass British soldiers. Now rumors were flying that these troops were planning an attack against the people of Boston. All day long bands of Sons of Liberty had been patrolling the streets. One of these bands was led by Crispus Attucks, a black seaman. Nobody really knows who began firing first but when the battle was over five colonists lay dead on the streets including Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution.


Who was Crispus Attucks. Was he simply an accidental victim of British gunfire as most scholars suggest when they discuss the Boston Massacre or was he something more? Attucks, a fugitive slave had a family tradition of leading struggles for liberty. One of his ancestors was John Attucks, a Wampananoag Indian who in 1675 fought beside the great chief King Philip in their war against British settlers who were invading Wampananoag land. Attucks was captured and executed by the British in 1676.


While we do not know just when Attucks joined the Sons of Liberty we do know that he had been a crew member on some of the whaling ships that regularly sailed in and out of Boston Harbor. We also know something even more important about Attucks, he was literate at a time when most seamen could not read or write. Finally we are able to assume that in 1770 he had become a leader of the struggle against England because of this interesting letter that John Adams discovered a few years after the death of Attucks.


This letter was addressed to Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson and signed Crispus Attucks. In this letter Attucks warned the governor that if he persisted in allowing British troops to harass the people of Boston there would be bloodshed. Attucks told Hutchinson that if violence erupted it would not be the fault of the British soldiers ‘who were but passive Instruments, were Machines, neither moral nor voluntary” …The blame he told the governor belonged to him alone. “You was a free Agent. You acted cooly, deliberately, with all that premeditated Malice, not against Us in Particular but against the People in general”


When I read the letter carefully I decided that Attucks was a rather sophisticated leader. He clearly understands that it was not the British soldiers who are to blame for the escalating tensions between the English military forces and Bostonians. Instead he tells the governor that any bloodshed that might occur because of the growing hostility between the people and the British government is the fault of the governor himself. Attucks shows a surprising understanding and sympathy for the plight of the common British soldier. Crispus Attucks along with many other blacks living in the north had good reasons for joining organizations like the Sons of Liberty. These organizations of course were demanding that England renounce impressment but there were other reasons as well. Many of the leaders of the Sons such as Sam Adams had also announced their opposition to slavery. Many African Americans believed that a victory for the Patriots would end slavery in America.





These books that I have listed below have the best information I could find about African American seamen and their role in the American Revolution


Millstein Evelyn The Underground Railroad A Movement That Changed America

The first chapter of my book Prelude describes the role of African Americans in the American Revolution


Bolster W. Jeffrey Black Jacks: African American Seamen in the Age of Sail

Harvard University Press 1997.

This book is a general study of African American seamen. It does not have a specific chapter on the American Revolution but it is a good study of the world of black sailors. It covers not just North America but the Caribbean and South America as well.


Kaplan, Sidney and Emma Nogrady Kaplan The Black Presence in the Era of the American Revolution. University of Massachusetts Press1989.

This book has a good description of Crispus Attucks including the letter that John Adams found (pg. 6-10)


Linebaugh, Peter and Marcus Rediker. The Many-Headed Hydra: Sailors, Slaves, Commoners and the Hidden History of the Revolutionary Atlantic. Beacon Press, 2000

Chapter 7 A Motley Crew in the American Revolution (pg. 211-247) Covers the role of seamen in the American Revolution.


Rediker, Marcus Outlaws of the Atlantic: Sailors, Pirates, and Motley Crews in the Age of Sail. Beacon Press 2014

This is another excellent study of seamen during the pre- Civil War era that includes the entire the Atlantic Ocean. Chapter 5 A Motley Crew in the American Revolution pg. 89-119 This book has Marcus Rediker’s more updated version of the role of seamen in the American Revolution.








The Underground Railroad ran south as well as north. Its destination was Florida, the home of the Seminole nation. The story that celebrates the unique brotherhood of Black and Indian Seminoles is one of the more compelling histories of the Underground Railroad.


Florida had always been a favorite destination for Georgia’s slaves. It had been, at various periods of history, a Spanish or a British colony. Most of this land composed of swampland was ruled by Seminole Indians, a people who seemed delighted to welcome runaways to settle among them.


By the 1800’s southern planters realized that their border with Florida had become a sieve through which hundreds of their slaves regularly found their way to freedom. They demanded that the United States government do something to protect their “slave property”. The American government responded by forcing Spain to cede their Florida colony to the United States. Slaveholders were jubilant now that they had full control of Florida. Furthermore the North Florida panhandle was a rich land, and southern planters rushed to establish new plantations along the St. John River.


Slaveholders soon realized that they had no way of controlling the floods of runaways that sought freedom in the land of the Seminoles. The Seminole nation was one of the few places in North America where African Americans were truly free. Blacks were treated as equal members of the Seminole nation. Black Seminoles lived in their own villages and elected their own chiefs who were equal members of the tribal council. In case of war Black Seminoles were expected to provide fighters in the same way as every other tribe did. They were expected to pay their Seminole Head Chief a yearly tribute which was usually about ten bushels of corn and a slaughtered pig or two.


By the 1830’s when the Seminole people were confronted by a major crisis Black and Indian Seminoles had become one people. Abraham, the Principal Chief of the Black Seminoles was also the Chief Interpreter for the Seminoles’ Head Chief Mikanopi. The position of Chief Interpreter was similar to that of prime minister in a European country.


In 1830 President Andrew Jackson introduced a plan that thrilled slaveholders and devastated the lives of Indian peoples living in the south. It was called the Indian Removal Act. This law forced the 5 Indian nations, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek Cherokee and Seminole to leave their native lands forever and settle in the unknown Indian Territories (now Oklahoma .) This made the rich land of the Indian people’s old homelands available for the creation of new plantations.


The brutality of Indian Removal, known in history as the Trail of Tears has been well documented. The Seminoles’ experience with the Indian Removal Act was unique.

The plans for the Seminoles were simple. Indian Seminoles were to be forced to move, but Black Seminoles would be gathered up and returned to any slaveholders who might claim them, or sold at slave auctions.


Abraham, one of the most brilliant of America’s black leaders resolved that this was never going to happen to his people. Seminoles longed to remain in their homeland but they believed they could never win a victory over the United States army. They had tried once before when General Andrew Jackson in 1816 invaded the Florida panhandle. The attacks were brutal and overwhelming. Seminoles were forced to leave the fertile lands along the St. John River and retreat south. When Abraham told the tribal council that they must fight America’s removal plan they reminded him of that bitter defeat. He reminded them that the Black Seminoles who were about to be re-enslaved included many of their wives, children, and grandchildren. As the tribal council debated such a dreadful choice Abraham announced that he had a plan.


He argued- we can never win a war against the United States army but we might be able to win a few significant concessions if we choose to wage war against Removal. We must make a war with the Seminoles so costly that the Americans might agree to our most important demands. First of course must be the right of all Seminoles, both black and Indian to move west as one nation. Secondly we know that the land the white man covets is farmland. For those Seminoles who cannot bear to leave their homeland, Americans might not mind if some of our people remain here in south Florida living their lives within our swamplands.


Abraham was such a wily negotiator that he actually convinced Americans that he supported resettlement and that he was working hard to convince the rest of the Seminole nation to peaceably move west. The removal plans were postponed for years. Meanwhile Abraham built up his fighting forces and chose the most promising young chiefs to lead the Seminole warriors into battle. Abraham and the council agreed that war against the United States could only be fought if it were to be a guerilla war, one of swift attack and then retreat into the swamp where the U S Army could never follow them.


Finally in December 1835 the United States government grew tired of Abraham’s convoluted negotiations and ordered that all Seminoles must assemble in Tampa Bay by the end of January, where ships would be waiting to take them west. Abraham was told that if this order was not obeyed there would be swift and possibly brutal retaliation against the Seminoles.


Abraham was ready. On December 28, 1835 Osceola led his band of warriors in an attack against General Thompson, while another Seminole war party attacked Major Dade’s troops. The very next day a major slave revolt led by John Caesar began. Two hundred and fifty slaves began attacking the plantations along the St. John River. Four hundred slaves fled and joined the Seminoles.



Black and Native Seminoles fought the US Army to a standstill. This image depicts an attack on an army block-house on Florida's Withlacoochee River in 1835. Source - Library of Congress Images


For over a year Seminoles attacked U.S. army forces, then quickly fled into the jungle. General Jesup the new commander of the United States forces in Florida was ordered to find a way to make peace with the Seminoles and make them agree to move west. Jesup’s reply to this order was historic. This, he told Washington was a Negro war, not an Indian war. The only way to convince a majority of Seminoles to travel west was to include Black Seminoles in the exodus of the Seminole nation. Washington officials reluctantly agreed to Jesup’s plan. On March 6th 1837 a truce agreement was signed by Jesup and Abraham, First of all, the truce stipulated that this settlement was voluntary. All the Seminoles who agreed to emigrate would be secure in their lives and property. Property, as defined in this document was a thinly disguised code word. Washington announced that since they believed that all Black Seminoles were the property of the Seminole Chiefs they would be traveling west with the rest of the nation.


As soon as they heard the news that the agreement had been signed hundreds of Black and Indian Seminoles streamed into the Tampa Bay encampment. It did not take long for the United States government to break the peace agreement. Slaveholders suddenly appeared in the compound and began huntingfor fugitive slaves. On the night of June second, three young Seminole chiefs, Osceola, Wildcat, and the black Seminole John Horse led a band of warriors up to  the compound, broke open the gate, and Seminoles vanished into the protective swamplands. the war began again, this time even bloodier than before led by Osceola, Wildcat, and John Horse.


In September 1837 General Jessup thought that he had found at another way to end the war when he captured Principal Chief King Philip, Wild Cat's father. Wild Cat immediately rode into St. Augustine carrying a white flag of truce and leading a delegation of chiefs including Osceola and John horse to try and negotiate his father's release. Jessup believed the war would be over quickly without these tribal leaders. He arrested the entire delegation and threw them into the jail at Fort Marian, a deal that everyone believed was escape proof. Everyone except the Seminole prisoners.


The prisoners had been thrown into a single room which already held 20 men, including Wild Cat's father.there was only one window 15 feet above the floor. The prisoners slept on awooden platformcovered with canvas bags. They began work on their escape immediately. Someone, probably one of the slaves working in the jail slipped them a file. The prisoners carved toeholds into the walls.they used these toe holds to reach the Windows. It took six weeks for the captors to file through one of the window bars. Next they tore the campus apart to create a strong rope. on the night of November 29 the state began. The strongest of the warriors stood on the platform while another warrior climbed on his shoulders using the toe holds, and tied one end of the rope to the remaining window bar. A rock was tied to the other end of the rope which landed on the ground below. One by one the Seminoles slipped through the tiny window opening and slid down the rope every prisoner escaped including the elderly King Philip. only Osceola remains behind because he was already dying of malaria.


The war continued for another year with no victory in sight. the war had already cost $30 million; it was the most costly war in American history until the Civil War. This time just promised Abraham that if Seminoles chose migrate west, the United States Army would protect the right of Black Seminoles to be included as part of the Seminole nation. The general kept his promise. Most Seminoles had settled in Oklahoma by the end of 1838.


Several hundred Seminoles refused to leave Florida and are still living in their ancient homeland today.




Millstein, Evelyn The Underground Railroad: A Movement That Changed America. Michigan: St. Clair Press 2015

Chapter 4 deals with the Seminole people in Florida

Chapter 9 has a section that tells the story of the Black Seminoles in Oklahoma

Guin, Jeff Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro. New York: Penguin Putman Inc. 2002

This book tells the history of the Seminole people in the form of a series of personal contemporary narratives.

Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Urbana: University of Florida Press 1999

This book is a history of the Seminole people during the Spanish occupation of Florida.

Porter, Kenneth W. it'srevised and edited by Amos, Alcione M. and Thomas P. Sentar. The Black Seminoles: History of a freedom-Seeking People. Florida: University of Florida Press 1996.

This book covers the history of the Seminole people from the beginning of the American occupation of Florida to the death of John Horse.


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© Evelyn Millstein, Author