A Look at Slavery through Posters and Broadsides


Students will examine posters and broadsides from the 1800s to examine attitudes about slavery in the United States at that time.


Essential Question

How can the posters and broadsides of the 1800s help us to understand various attitudes towards slavery in the United States prior to the Civil War?


During the 1800s, people used public notices such as posters and broadsides to advertise slave sales, rewards for missing slaves, anti-slavery meetings, and anti-slavery fairs. The authors of these notices had different points of view. They used the notices to attract the attention of like-minded people. These posters were written in the language of the time, often using different words, phrases, and spelling than what is used today. Many of these notices were public announcements, so they included dates and places.


  1. Students will read posters and broadsides and identify the audience and the message.
  2. Students will explain whether these posters or broadsides would have influenced them to support the point of view of the poster or broadside.


  1. Explain that broadsides or posters were used in the 1800s to inform people about events that took place at the time.
  2. Ask how people are informed about important events today.

Lesson Activites

Full Class Discussion

  1. Introduce the students to the anti-slavery poster The Man is Not Bought (c. 1854). In this poster, Boston citizens offer to buy a fugitive slave from a kidnapper. Explain to the class that free blacks as well as escaped slaves could be kidnapped off the streets and sold into slavery. Discuss the author’s point of view in this poster.
  2. Introduce the students to the rest of the posters, reading them along with the students and pointing out important information.
  3. Ask the students who they think the intended readers were for each poster and what course of action they were suggesting.
  4. Inform the students that they will be working in groups to analyze the posters.

Group Work

  1. Divide the students into groups.
  2. Reinforce classroom procedures for group work.
  3. Explain that each group will function as the staff of a newspaper and that each group member will have a job:

   - Editor-in-Chief: Leads the group to make sure that all participate in the discussion.

   - News Editor: Looks for facts: location and date.

   - Op-Ed Editor: Looks for opinions: who the writer and audience were and what the message is.

   - Copy Editor: Decides what information will be recorded on the Poster Inquiry Sheet.

  1. Each member of the group will be given a copy of the same broadside or poster and a Poster Inquiry Sheet to fill out.
  2. The students will be directed to look for specific pieces of information, which will be recorded on the response sheet.
  3. Groups will meet to analyze the poster and fill in the Poster Inquiry Sheet.

Report Back/Share

  1. Once the Poster Inquiry Sheets have been completed, each group of students will report to the whole class and describe what they learned from the group’s poster.
  2. Ask: What were some of the attitudes about slavery expressed in these posters? Record student responses onto chart paper.

Individual Assignment/Homework

Each student will write a news story about his or her poster based on the information recorded on the Poster Inquiry Sheet. The teacher can model how to write the story using one of the Poster Inquiry Sheets.

Suggested Readings

Brill, Marlene Targ. Allen Jay and the Underground Railroad (Carolrhoda Books, 1993).
Erickson, Paul. Daily Life in a Southern Plantation (Puffin Books, 2000).
Hamilton, Virginia. Anthony Burns: The Defeat and Triumph of a Fugitive (Alfred Knopf, 1988).
Hamilton, Virginia. The People Could Fly (Alfred Knopf, 1985).
Hakim, Joy. The History of US: Liberty for All? 1800–1960 (Oxford University Press, 1999).
Haskin, Jim. Get on Board, The Story of the Underground Railway (Scholastic, 1995).
Hopkinson, Deborah. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt (Dragonfly, 1993).
Lester, Julius. From Slave Ship to Freedom Road (Puffin Books, 1998).
Lester, Julius. To Be a Slave (Scholastic, 1968).
Levine, Ellen. If You Traveled on the Underground Railroad (Scholastic, 1993).
McKissack, Patricia & Fredrick. Day of Jubilee (Scholastic, 2003).
Mitchell, Elizabeth. Journey to the Bottomless Pitt, The Story of Stephen Bishop and Mammoth Cave (Viking, 2004).
Rappaport, Doreen. Freedom River (Disney Press, 2000).
Rappaport, Doreen. No More! Stories and Songs of Slave Resistance (Candlewick Press, 2002).
Winter, Jeanette. Follow the Drinking Gourd (Dragonfly Books, 1992).