Slavery and Civil Disobedience: Christiana Riot of 1851

When is it a moral obligation to disobey the law or to fight back? Using primary sources that document the "Christiana Riot" of 1851, learners consider these questions. The firsthand accounts tell the story of the riot, which happened when a white southern man came to retrieve enslaved people he owned under the Fugitive Slave Act. Young historians examine the accounts to decide whether the enslaved people and their allies should have been tried for treason. 

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CCSS: Adaptable
Instructional Ideas
  • Use a jigsaw approach to analyze primary sources about the Christiana Riot
  • Debate whether the incident should be called a riot after considering the accounts
Classroom Considerations
  • Pupils need background on the Fugitive Slave Act
  • Lesson profiles a lesser-known incident in abolition history
  • Included materials offer a scaffolded approach to analyzing difficult readings
  • Not all the primary sources are labeled, making the lesson a little confusing