Choosing sides…what are the consequences?

In this session students deepen their understandings of the growing tensions between the colonists and British government by comparing the views of a variety of enslaved African Americans on the conflict with Britain. They will learn about African Americans who fought for the Crown, as well as the Patriot cause. They will examine different reasons why an African American would choose either side and will consider the consequences for their choice.

This lesson is intended to follow lesson 5:1.2.6 in the guide and can be an extension since the viewpoint is from an African American.

Lesson Objective

Students will analyze the views, lives, and contributions of African Americans in the Revolutionary period by examining primary source documents and completing an exit card.



  1. Activator: Post question on the Promethean board for a Think- Pair-Share- “If you were an African American slave during the Revolutionary War, would you fight with the Patriots, or the British?” Give students about 5 minutes to discuss their answer, and jot down their response. To get a feel for what the class thinks, ask students to raise their hands if they would fight for the Patriot side, or the British side. You can even jot down the number of responses on the board.
  2. Developing Understanding: Display the document of the Declaration of Independence on the Promethean board, highlighting the first line: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
  3. You can even have this line copied on a separate flipchart page so students only focus on that line. Briefly discuss this quote with students. (Ask students: What document does this come from? Who wrote it? ) (Thomas Jefferson, July 4, 1776, etc).
  4. Post Jefferson’s Runaway Slave Ad and ask students a few questions for close reading. ie; What is this document? Who wrote it? When was it written? (Sept. 14, 1769). Have students understand the irony between the Declaration and the slave advertisement. This will drive the point of how unequal society was at this time period. Do not spend too much time on this as this is not the main point of the lesson.
  5. Post Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation on the board. You can show the document in its entirety just to show students where it came from, but focus on the lines: And I hereby further declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to Rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining His Majesty’s Troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing the Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to this Majesty’s crown and dignity … You can have this text isolated on a separate flipchart as well.
  6. Ask students questions that will promote close reading such as, “Who wrote this?” “Why was it written?”etc., Guide them to the understanding that this is a Proclamation to enlist African Americans to fight for the Crown (British). You can also ask follow up questions (Ex: “Why would African Americans fight for the British?”) Also, do some sourcing, and give them the date the proclamation was written (November 7, 1775).
  7. Group students into groups of five. Hand each group a biographical sketch of an African American who fought for either the British or the Patriots.
  8. Have students answer questions on their worksheet about their person. Give students about 15 minutes to read and answer the questions. I underlined a few key pieces from each biography that will help guide the students. You do not need to have any of the text underlined. This could be where you differentiate with your students.
  9. Give each group time to share the information they found about their person.
  10. Give additional information and share additional images that pertain to blacks enlisting in the Revolutionary war: “A List of names of Provincials,” and “Book of Negroes” (images/text on slide).
  11. Share information from Boston King’s account of the evacuation of New York (on slide).
  12. I added additional information on another slide that highlights some of the consequences that African Americans faced after enlisting.
  13. Post exit card question on the board and / or handout the assessment.


Exit Card: If you were an African American slave during the Revolutionary War, what would be some possible consequences of fighting on the Patriot side? What about possible consequences for fighting on the British side? Use information from the primary source documents to support your reasoning.


Prince Hall’s and Lemuel Hayne’s bio sketches do not directly state which side they fought on. These can be used to differentiate. The teacher may consider giving these sketches to more advanced readers.


The Declaration of Independence. “The Charters of Freedom: ‘A New World is at Hand.’” National Archives and Records Administration. (accessed July 27, 2012)

“Runaway Slave Advertisements During the Revolutionary War Era.” Teaching American History in Maryland. Maryland State Archives. (accessed July 27, 2012)

Public Broadcasting System (PBS). “The Revolutionary War.” Africans in America. (accessed July 27, 2012).

“Who was Agrippa Hull?” Wiki Answers. (accessed July 27, 2012).

Selig, Robert. “The Revolution’s Black Soldier.” (accessed July 27, 2012).

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