Liberty for Some

Theme: Cultural & Historical

Author: Dr. James Turk
Curator/Director, Salem County Historical Society

Reprinted from the Special Children’s Educational Supplement* to Today’s Sunbeam, Friday, May 8, 1998, “The British are Coming.”

* The original development of the supplement, The British are Coming!, published in Today’s Sunbeam, Salem, NJ, was supported by grants from the Salem County Cultural and Heritage Commission/Salem County Board of Chosen Freeholders; The Society, Sons of the Revolution in the State of New Jersey; Air Products and Chemicals, Inc.; Atlantic Energy; and the Society’s Fenwick benefactor members: Mannington Mills, Inc.; Salem County Mutual Fire Insurance Co.; PSE&G; Wire-Pro, Inc.

Subject Areas
Social Studies, Language Arts

One class period


Interpreting, describing, drawing conclusions, imagining

Charting the Course
The occurrence of slavery and indentured servants is part of the history of the region and should be included to provide complete historcial perspective about the region.

Indentured servant, slavery, others as defined from passages

Correlation to NJ Core Curriculum Content Standards
Social Studies: 6.2 (1,4), 6.3 (1,2,3,4), 6.4 (1,3,4), 6.6 (6)
Language Arts: 3.2 (2), 3.3 (1), 3.4 (3,6,8)


Students will be able to:

  1. Describe, through reading and interpreting newspaper articles from 1778, how difficult it was for Afro-Americans to escape slavery.
  2. Through interpreting descriptive clues, describe the conditions and clothing of two escaped slaves.
  3. Understand that black men, slave and free, participated in America’s struggle for "Liberty" during the revolutionary war.


Student handout (included), paper and writing utensil

Making Connections

Relating the history of the region and the significance of Salem County to the Revolutionary War, students can begin to realize the important role that the region played in the development and formation of our country and our state. Realizing the dilemma of two escaped slaves will assist students in looking back in time within the historical context of the region called Down Jersey.


Not everyone who lived in Salem County in 1778 enjoyed freedom. Some African-Americans worked as slaves and did not have the freedom to live as they chose. Also, a number of white men, women and children were "indentured servants." This meant that they worked without pay in exchange for being taught a skill or trade until they reached a certain age or until they paid off their ship passage to come to America. ?Indentureships? (as they were called) sometimes lasted as long as 15 years. Unlike slavery, however, an indentureship did come to an end.

People who are not free usually are not happy, and during the American Revolution many enslaved people and indentured servants tried to escape and seek freedom. The British, in fact, encouraged enslaved African Americans and indentured servants to join the British army in exchange for freedom — a promise that they did not always keep.

Additionally, approximately 5,000 black men, slave and free, fought on the side of the American colonists in the Revolutionary War. Some of these African-Americans who fought for American "Liberty" were from New Jersey.


Warm Up
Edward Bird and Harry were two of these people who tried to escape to freedom. The two advertisements offering rewards for returning them to their masters are from Philadelphia newspapers. While you read the advertisements, see how much you can learn about these two men.

The Activity

  1. Distribute the handout to each student. Have them read the newspaper advertisements.
  2. Each student should then answer the questions.
  3. In small groups, or individually, students should choose one of the men and then write the conclusion to their story. What happened after this advertisement appeared? Where they captured and returned to their masters? Did they successfully escape? Where did they go? What did they do? Did they have families?, etc.

Wrap Up
Discuss the answers to the questions as a class.

Have students share their completed stories with the class. They could also illustrate them.


Participation in discussions and completion of questions.


Research other stories about runaway slaves. Investigate the level of success that was realized. Did most “make it” to freedom, or were most recaptured?

Please download the PDF for the complete Lesson Plan.


Salem County Historical Society
79-83 Market Street
Salem, New Jersey 08079 (609) 935-5004
or visit their website at
See related activity "Finding Your Way on the Underground Railroad"

Historic Themes and Resources Book, pages 34 and 143