Newspapers provide abundant information about the people and communities they serve. On their pages can be found accounts of local and international events, government proclamations, notices of happenings, arrivals and departures, marriages, deaths, items for sale, public notices, international events, and the like. The first newspaper was published in Christiansted, St. Croix in 1770. The first St. Thomas newspaper appeared in 1812. The St. Thomas Tidende started in 1815. By the 1880s as many as six newspapers were being published in the Virgin Islands. All these newspapers were written in English, except for official government notices. Prior to emancipation, the newspapers regularly published unique descriptions of enslaved African men and women who had run away from their owners.
In this activity, students will analyze the front page of a newspaper from 1825, focusing their attention on a runaway slave notice, advertisements and general announcements. They will consider the societal status of enslaved Africans, day to day life at the time, and consider attitudes toward slavery.
Primary Sources in this Activity
Suggested Teaching Instructions
This primary source activity includes the topic of slavery. Viewed as a sensitive topic for classroom lessons, teachers should consider their students ability to engage with the topic, give background information, create a safe environment for discussion, and be prepared to support their students’ questions and responses to the subject matter.
Before using this newspaper activity, lead the class in a discussion about primary sources. Discuss newspapers as a primary source, and ask students to list strengths and weaknesses of using newspapers as a primary source.
Discuss how enslaved people protested their condition and treatment? Do you think running away was common? Why or why not?
Load the newspaper on the smart board or on computers. Have the students read the first page of the newspaper and look at the advertisements. The focus of this activity is on the runaway slave notice; however, the newspaper also offers a snapshot of life in 1825, there are events, advertisements, and other notices. Allow students to make observations on their own as they read the front page. The various notices can be used to create context about life at that time.
Use the questions presented below to examine and analyze the newspaper. Then engage students in a discussion.
Analyze the Primary Source
Answer the following questions as a class to analyze the newspaper.
- What type of document is this?
- Who read/received it? (Think about who might be literate at that time. Who had access to newspapers?)
- When is it from?
- Where is it from?
- Write a sentence summarizing this newspaper.
- What was happening at the time in history when this newspaper was created?
- What did you find out from this newspaper that you might not learn anywhere else?
- What other documents or historical evidence are you going to use to understand the topics covered in the newspaper?
Discovering History: Ask students what they notice on the front page of the newspaper. (Dates, Location, etc.) What do you notice about the advertisements in general? Have students state their observations out loud to the class. This should lead them to the runaway slave advertisement.
What do you notice about the runaway slave announcement? What is the enslaved woman’s name? What is the description of her? How much is the reward for her return? What are the consequences for helping her remain free? Who put the notice in the newspaper? Does the tone or wording reflect this person’s attitude about enslaved Africans in general and this one in particular?
Perspective: Ask students to think about this woman’s situation. Why did the enslaved woman choose to run away? Might she know free people that were willing to take the risk to help her? How did she feel in this state of quasi freedom? What might she have felt if she saw the announcement that authorities were looking for her?
Think Critically Essay: Write an essay answering the following questions: After reading this notice what conclusions can you make about a slave’s status in the Danish West Indies? What does this advertisement reveal about attitudes toward slavery during this time? What do you think researchers could do with the information presented in this and other runaway slave announcements?