Teach PA History
How Far to Freedom?
Equipment & Supplies
  • Drawing paper in 9x12 sheets Drawing paper for the Big Book Markers Colored pencils Computer lab for whole group access to sites


Download and copy the combined worksheets for this lesson.

Note of Explanation Regarding Vocabulary in This Lesson

Enslaved: Those held in bondage, sometimes known as slaves

Enslavers: Those who become owners of enslaved persons, sometimes known as slaveholders

Fugitives: Those enslaved who are seeking freedom, sometimes known as runaways

Abolitionist: One who helped others in their search for freedom

Liberty: Freedom

Session #1

A. Students will read excerpts from William Parker's narrative in groups of two or three, or teacher may use this as a read-aloud (from The Freedman's Story by William Parker, pp. 153-155 (Online version hosted by "Documenting the American South" at UNC).

B. Distribute Worksheet #1: "Let Us Run Away, and Not Be Sold Like the Rest."

The questions on this worksheet will guide students" listening or reading of William Parker's boyhood stories. Encourage students to look for examples of experiences that helped Parker develop his belief system.

C. Students will draw a detailed picture from these excerpts of Parker's life as a ten-year-old.

D. Whole group will discuss the eight focus questions as they share their drawings.

E. Students will display their illustrations on a visual timeline, which will be used as a reference point when they create their Big Book illustrations during Sessions #4 and #5.

Session #2

A. Students will study the second part of William Parker's life. He is now a free black, married to Eliza and living in Christiana, Pennsylvania.

B. Students should have access to an Internet-connected computer lab to view the links on the Student Resources page:

C. Students will create a Venn diagram Worksheet 2: "What It Is Like to Be…Comparing Experiences of Free Blacks and Enslavers during the Resistance at Christiana" comparing the experiences of the enslavers and the free black men and women. Include in the diagram words to express how people felt.

Session #3

After the Resistance at Christiana, the Parkers knew they would have to leave the United States and settle in Canada in order to be completely free. Visit the following sites to view some of the various routes fugitives took.

A. Students will trace the route to Buxton, Canada, that William and Eliza took after they left Christiana, Pennsylvania.

Underground Railroad Routes from Maryland, through Pennsylvania, to Ontario, Canada

Underground Railroad routes are shown in color.

Underground Railroad Routes, 1860

Another map tracing the routes of the Underground Railroad

Women of North Buxton and the Elgin Settlement

William Parker's wife Eliza spent the rest of her life at the Buxton Settlement in Canada. Descendants of William and Eliza explain more about their ancestors" lives as free people of color in Canada at this site.

B. We all learn lessons from our life experiences. Ask students to review what they have learned about the Parker's beliefs and identify ways they put those beliefs into actions.

C. Ask students to consider the following questions:

  • Why was Pennsylvania so important in the Underground Railroad and the Abolitionist Movement? [Pennsylvania was located adjacent to slave states. Many free black populations existed in the state and could support fugitives in their search for freedom. Pennsylvania had implemented a gradual abolition of slavery already in 1780.]

  • How did the actions of the Parkers at the Christiana Riot influence not only the lives of African Americans but all other groups or persons?

  • How is this story related to your life today? If conditions had not changed due to the Parker's actions and others like them, what would your life today be like?

  • How are the Parkers role models?

  • Slaves were not educated. How do you think William Parker came to write so eloquently?

  • Was causing a riot justified? Would it be justified today or illegal?

  • What would the Parker's advice be to students today?

Sessions #4 and #5

Students will write the text and create the illustrations for a Big Book of the Lives of William and Eliza Parker. The final product will be shared with primary level students in the school community.

  • Students will use the timeline of illustrations created in Session #1 to organize their story.

  • Whole group may want to author story together.

  • Pairs or individuals will draw illustrations for the book.

  • Discuss expectations for the book by distributing the rubric (See "Assessment Strategies") to students.

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