For the Teacher

Unit Objectives
  • Discuss the experience of the transatlantic slave trade from the point of view of various participants.
  • Examine arguments both in favor and against the continuation of the transatlantic slave trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.
  • Understand the economic factors that led to slavery within the American colonies and to its spread across the southern states.
  • Compare and contrast the conditions of slave life in the tobacco economies of Virginia and Maryland with that of the cotton economy of Mississippi.
  • Use primary documents to understand the migration experiences of African slaves into and within the United States.
  • Use GIS software to analyze and interpret factors related to demographic changes within the colonies and the pre Civil War United States resulting from migrations related to slavery.
Related National Standards
      Common Core standards apply to the activities in this unit. Identify those that are appropriate to the particular materials you select to use from this set of history related standards compiled as part of the American Social History Project, City University of New York.

      Common Core

GIS Activities


GIS investigations are part of many of the activities in this unit. These investigations make use of ArcGIS Online, an internet software that runs on most browsers. If you do not have an an ArcGIS account and would like to have one you can sign up for a free personal account here.

The data and shapefiles in the various map layers are from a variety of sources:

Africa - 1832

Daniel Adams, Africa, Boston: Lincoln & Edmands Publisher, 1832 as found at David Rumsey Map Collection.

Slave Sources & Destinations

data from "Estimates,", Emory University, 2013. Downloaded Dec 3, 2016 from Voyages: The Transatlantic Slave Trade Database.

Major Ocean Currents

shapefiles from, Major Ocean Currents, available on

Treaty of Tordesillas

The division of the earth by lines of demarcation measured in leagues, not degrees, from the Cape Verde Islands were established in the Treaty of Tordesillas by Pope Alexander VI in 1494. The lines in the layer are thus approximations.

Slaves Imported to American Colonies 1619-1807

data from Gregory E. O'Malley, "Beyond the Middle Passage: Slave Migration from the Caribbean to North America 1619-1807," William and Mary Quarterly, Volume LXVI, Number 1, January 2009.

Southern States 1790-1860

Shape files and census data from Minnesota Population Center. National Historical Geographic Information System: Version 2.0. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota 2011, downloaded Dec 4, 2016..

U.S. Railroads 1861

shapefiles from "Historical GIS: The 1861 Railroad System in America," downloaded Dec 3, 2016 from University of Nebraska, Digital History Project.

U.S. Rivers

shapefiles from U.S. Rivers, available on at

Additional Resources

Edward E. Baptiste. The Half Has Never Been Told. New York: Basic Books, 2014.

David Eltis and David Richardson, editors. Atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012.

Emory University, "African Names Database" a part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade site.

The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record. The Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, the Digital Media Lab at the University of Virginia Library

In Motion: The African-American Migration Experience. New York Public Library, 2005.


    Your comments and suggestion about these materials are more than welcome.

    If you have ideas for additional topics that would lend themselves to the approach taken here, please pass them along. I'd enjoy collaborating with you.


Last modified in July, 2019 by Rick Thomas