Were their hands clean? Are my hands clean?


Students examine Portsmouth, NH, shipping news, maps, and local store advertisements from the 18th and 19th centuries to consider how people in our local communities were connected to the triangle trade. They then reflect on how their own economic choices are related to exploitation and other global issues.

Triangle Trade, Transatlantic Slave Trade, Slavery in the North

Enduring Understanding

Slavery existed in the North and was central to the development and growth of the northern economies.

Compelling Question
How were our communities connected to the triangle trade?

Historical Thinking Skills
Sourcing and Evidence; Synthesizing Sources

Lesson Outline

Activating Prior Knowledge/Building Historical Context

Review the triangle trade, familiarizing students with the geography and history of the triangle trade. Review goods that were typically traded between New England and the West Indies. Triangular Trade map worksheet

Background: It is important for students to understand the economic connections between New England and the West Indies. Our region supplied the slave societies of the Caribbean with food such as corn, beans, oats, hay, hogs, turkeys, and potatoes, while they supplied us with molasses and sugar, which was distilled into Rum.

Investigation of Primary Sources

Examine a shipping news advertisement from a 1768 Portsmouth newspaper. Source the document and connect the ingoing and outgoing ships to the triangular trade map. Shipping News worksheet

Examine advertisements from Vermont newspapers and identify West Indies goods being sold in Vermont stores. Note the goods being received in Norwich (including wheat and produce)–New England provisioned the West Indies with food, livestock and, later, manufactured goods such as shoes and tools. Hand out the Triangle Trade Worksheet, along with one of the advertisements to pairs of students to read and analyze. Triangle Trade worksheet and advertisements

Students could search in Chronicling America for West Indies goods being sold in their own communities.

Summative Assessment

Explanatory Essay: After examining local store advertisements, explain how local community members were connected to the triangle trade.

Review the term exploitation: The action or fact of treating someone unfairly in order to benefit from their work.

Listen to Are my hands clean? Have students identify an issue they care about, such as exploitation, climate change or child labor, and consider how their clothing or other purchases connect. Students write a reflection on how their own economic choices are connected to exploitation and other global issues.

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