Alexander Turner, Daisy Turner’s father, ca. 1915. Courtesy, Grafton Historical Society.

Overview Enslaved people were human beings with aspirations, dreams, fears, and families. They constantly resisted their enslavement in small and large ways. These activities are designed to help students see the enslaved as real people, to understand the ways in which the institution of slavery dehumanized them, and to highlight ways that enslaved people resisted and acted with agency to maintain their human dignity.

Topics Transatlantic Slave Trade, Slavery, Resistance to Slavery

Compelling Question How does Alec Turner’s story demonstrate his resistance to being enslaved?

Historical Thinking Skills Primary Source Analysis; Synthesizing Sources

4-Part Lesson Outline

Activating Prior Knowledge/Building Historical Context

Begin by viewing this visualization of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and this reconstruction video of a slave vessel.

Review the Turner Family Timeline, paying particular attention to the beginning through to the Civil War.

Visual Thinking:

Then use the visual thinking slides  to examine the engraving Sale of Estates, Paintings, and Slaves in the Rotunda, New Orleans.  Tell students the title of the engraving; after visual thinking strategies are used, discuss what the people in the engraving might have been thinking about and feeling. Who has the power in this image?


Return to the timeline and listen to Alessi’s story. How might Alec Turner’s father, Alessi, have felt when he arrived in New Orleans and was sold to John Gouldin? What hopes, dreams, and fears do students think he had? How does having no power impact a person’s hopes, dreams, and fears? Can hopes and dreams empower a person?

Investigation of Primary Sources

As a class, examine the two pages of the 1850 slave census for the John Gouldin plantation, where Alec Turner was enslaved. 

What do the students observe? How do the listers describe the people represented by the census pages? Why might that be?

Hand out the Resisting Slavery primary sources with worksheets to 5 small groups or multiple pairs. This activity asks groups of students to examine quotes from primary sources and oral histories and summarize how they demonstrate ways that Alec Turner took actions on his own behalf to resist the condition of being enslaved and envision a future of freedom for himself. 

After students report out on their documents, discuss:

How does the act of resistance empower someone?  Stories and images of slavery portray enslaved people with little to no power. The Turner family stories provide a counter-narrative.  What do they add to our understanding of slavery?

Sum up with how Alec’s story provides opportunity to teach 3 key points:

  • Enslaved people were human beings with families and lives to live 
  • Enslaved people resisted and found agency where they could
  • Many self-emancipated themselves

Summative Assessment

Enslaved people were human beings with aspirations, dreams, fears, and families. They constantly resisted their enslavement in small and large ways. After examining the primary sources, what hopes, dreams, and fears do you think Alex might have had for his future? Do you think they were different from his father’s?

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