Educational Resources

K-12 Classroom Lessons | Middle School | Lesson Plan: African-American Civilians in Baltimore during the War of 1812


Authors: Glenn Johnston and Johanna Seymour, Education Consultants, Maryland Military Historical Society
Grade Level: 8th
Duration: One 40-Minute Class Period

Students will examine primary sources that teach us about African-American Civilians in Baltimore during the War of 1812. The sources were not written by African-Americans themselves so students will have to read between the lines and analyze sources for bias and prejudice. For an assessment activity, students will research and compare the experiences of an African-Americans soldier or sailor.


At the conclusion of this block of instruction:

  1. Students will be able to write a one-page essay comparing the experiences of African-American civilians and those of African-Americans enlisted men. Additionally, they will compare the resources of each group.
  2. Students will learn to examine various primary sources pertaining to African-American civilian experiences. By doing so they will better understand these resources, not written by the African-Americans, can be both essential and problematic to developing a historical narrative.


Step 1: Introduction to Primary Sources/Studying African Americans during the War of 1812 (5 Minutes)
Explain to students that they are going to explore primary sources written by Maryland citizens during the War of 1812 about African-American civilians in Baltimore. “Why are we NOT going to read primary sources written BY African Americans in Baltimore during the War of 1812?” “Might these sources be bias or prejudice? If so, can they still be useful resources?” Ask the following questions, “What are primary sources?” “What types of primary sources do you think that we will study?”

Step 2: Lesson Rationale (1 Minute)
Explain to students that they are going to analysis primary sources from the War of 1812 to research Baltimore’s African-American civilian experiences.

Step 3: Framing the learning activity. (5 Minutes)
Ask students questions about defending Baltimore during the War of 1812. Besides being a soldier, what other jobs were required to defense the city?” “What types of jobs might be available to African Americans?” “How do you think that African Americans helped the war effort?” “How do you think others viewed their contributions?”

Step 4: Pair and Share Activity (20-25 Minutes)
They will each receive a packet of primary sources and a class work sheet. In pairs give students Resource Sheets #1-6. Instruct them to write their answers on the Class work Sheet. Allow them to ask questions.

Step 5: Synthesis of learning and assessment (5-10 minutes)
Discuss your findings as a group. Assign the homework (located on Class Work Sheet).


National History Standards

United States Era 4
Expansion and Reform (1801-1861)

Standard 1A- The student understands the international background and consequences of the Louisiana Purchase, the War of 1812, and the Monroe Doctrine.

Maryland State Curriculum Standards for United States History 

Grade 8 

5.0 History
Topic C. Conflict Between Ideas and Institutions
Indicator 4. Analyze the institution of slavery and its influence on societies in the United States
Objectives b. Analyze the experiences of African-American slaves, and free blacks

6.0 Social Studies Skills and Processes
Topic A. Read to Learn and Construct Meaning about Social Studies
Indicator 3. Use strategies to monitor understanding and derive meaning from text and portions of text (during reading)
Objectives b. Reread slowly and carefully, restate, or read on and revisit difficult parts
f. Periodically summarize or paraphrase important ideas while reading
Indicator 4. Use strategies to demonstrate understanding of the text (after reading)
Objectives f. Explain what is not directly stated in the text by drawing inferences
g. Confirm or refute predications made about the text to form new ideas
i. Draw conclusions and make generalizations based on the text, multiple texts and/or prior knowledge

Topic B. Write to Learn and Communicate Social Studies Understandings
Indicator 1. Select and use informal writing strategies, such as short/response/essay answer/brief constructed responses, journal writing, note taking, and graphic organizers, to clarify, organize, remember, and/or express new understandings.
Objective a. Identify key ideas.
Indicator 2. Use formal writing, such as multi-paragraph essays, historical investigations, research reports, letters, summaries, to inform.
Objectives b. Organize facts and/or data/statistics to support a topic
d. Cite sources when paraphrasing, summarizing or quoting.

Topic F. Analyze Social Studies Information
Indicator 1. Interpret information from primary and secondary sources
Objectives c. Analyze a document to determine point of view
e. Identify bias and prejudice

Topic G. Answer Social Studies Questions
Indicator 2. Use historic contexts to answer questions
Objectives a. Use historically accurate resources to answer questions, make predictions and support ideas
c. Construct a sound historical interpretation

Additional Standards 

Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies

CCR Anchor Standard #1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

RH.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of primary and secondary sources.

CCR Anchor Standard #4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone. 

RH.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including vocabulary specific to domains related to history/social studies.

CCR Anchor Standard #9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

RH.6-8.9 Analyze the relationship between a primary and secondary source on the same topic.

Writing Standards for Literacy in History/Social Studies 

CCR Anchor Standard #9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection and research.

WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis reflection, and research.

Topic Background

By 1812 Baltimore served as home to over a thousand enslaved African Americans as well as a significant free black population, which by the time of the Civil War outnumbered their enslaved counterparts. Unlike their rural brothers and sisters, Baltimore’s African Americans could take advantage of the varied skilled and unskilled occupations that a busy urban environment offered. Many enslaved African Americans had the opportunities to work alongside free and freed blacks. By doing so they could hope buy their freedom through performing part-time work. Of course, occupational opportunities open to African Americans were limited, masters did not always allow their slaves to work outside the home and men could take advantage of this opportunity more than women became permitted to do so.

During the War of 1812, the Committee of Vigilance and Safety needed slave and free black labor to build and maintain the line of defense around the city. Also African Americans became needed to perform jobs usually done by white men, such as working on fire companies. The Committee asked many owners to release their slaves for such work; however, the Committee compensated owners for their lost help. These African Americans who worked received less pay than their white counterparts and faced discrimination from their white townsmen. Despite their second class status, African Americans civilians created family structures, neighborhoods and worked hard to defend the city.

Resource Sheets

  • Resource #1- African American workers receipt (GIF)
  • Resource #2- Wages of men who moved ships (GIF)
  • Resource #3- Please Pay Me (PFD)
  • Resource #3- Please Pay Me (GIF)
  • Resource #4- AA asked to build defenses (GIF)
  • Resource Sheet #4- Need AA for Defenses (PDF)
  • Resource #5- Be kinder to AA workers (GIF)
  • Resource Sheet #5- Be Kinder to AA workers (PDF)
  • Resource #6- AA Protected as a Fire men (GIF)
  • Resource Sheet #6- Fire Company<PDF)
  • Resource #7- AA Marriage Record (PDF)
  • Resource #7- Marriage Records (JPG)
  • Class work- AA Civ in B during 1812 (PDF)


  • Dantas, Mariana L. Black Townsmen: Urban Slavery and Freedom in the Eighteen-Century Americas. New York, New York: Palgrave MacMillian, 2008.
  • Mahon, John K. The War of 1812. Gainesville, Florida: University of Florida Press, 1972.
  • Maryland Historical Society. “Basilica of the Assumption- Baltimore City (Marriage Records) Register IV [M1517-2] MSA SC 2707, George Roberts and Elizabeth,free negroes, June 6, 1805.” Assessed on February 5, 2014.

Lesson Plan Documents for Download