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Slave Badges

slave badge

I am attempting to make a lesson plan for 4th graders about slave badges. I was wondering how I could make this lesson tangible for this age group, and how to make the information come across clearly. What types of activities could I use? I also intend to compare slavery and indentured servitude. I would be using SC Standard 4.2 and indicator 4–2.6.


Slave badges, which served as a kind of work license for slaves in the Charleston area, are unique historical artifacts. As such, beginning a lesson with an image of the artifact—something that can be found with relative ease online—is a great way to raise historical questions.

So, beginning with an image, ask your students what they see. There is much to observe here: a date, a number, a year, a job description. It is made of copper and is 1.5 inches square; there is a hole at the top.

Once students have listed all of their observations, ask them what questions they have. Even 4th graders will likely ask some fundamentally historical questions, like “what was this used for?” or “where was it placed?”

Once students have compiled a list of questions, provide them with the materials that they need to find answers. Whether this means sending them to their textbooks or to excerpts of articles like this from the Smithsonian magazine, students will be motivated to piece together the historical puzzle you have presented.

Bringing them back together as a class, you might ask them to present their findings. If they already know about indentured servitude, this might be a good time to discuss the two systems of bondage in comparison with each other. There are several comparisons of slavery and indentured servitude on the web, including one from the Library of Congress and one from History Now.

You might also ask new questions as a class—“who benefitted from the use of slave badges”—that require a bit more coaching from an adult.

Good luck!

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