Chapter 2 Activity: Colonial America

Primary Source Readings (original spellings)

1.  “ The Lord in his mercy toward his poor churches having thus destroyed these bloody barbarous Indians, he returns his people safely to their vessels, where they take account of their prisoners. The squaws and some youths they brought home with them, and finding the men guilty of crimes they undertook the war for, they brought away only their heads.”            - Edward Johnson writing in 1654 about the Pequot War

2.  “...when the Children of the English Captives cried at any time, so that they were not presently quieted, the manner of the Indians was to dash out their brains against a tree…they took the small children, and held em under Water till they had near Drowned them… And the Indians in their frolics would Whip and Beat the small children, until they set em into grievous Outcries, and then throw em to their amazed Mothers for them to quiet em as well as they could.” - Cotton Mather, Magnolia Christi Americana

3.  “The colony will never thrive until we get … a stock of slaves sufficient to doe all of our business.” - Edward Downing to Governor John Winthrop of Massachusetts Bay Colony (1645)

4.  “Whereas great Damage to arises to the inhabitant of the town of Boston by negro’s and Indians keeping Hogs, not only be Occasioning very great Wast in the several Familys they respectively belong to, but as it Exposes them to great Temptations to Steal and purloin from their several Masters, provisions and other of their Substance and especially as it Occasions great Loss of time, and gives them an opportunity of Meeting and conferring together, whereby great Injuries have been done to the Inhabitants of said town.

“For the prevention of so great an Evil

“Ordered that no Indian negro or molatto shall be permitted to Keep any Hog or Swine whatever within the Town of Boston … under Penalty of Twenty Shillings… - Boston bylaw (1746)

Distribute readings.


What is the perspective on violence in the first and second passages? Who is describing the violence? Who is depicted as being responsible for violence, and for what reasons?

Why does Mr. Downing tell his brother- in – law, the Governor, that slavery is necessary in Massachusetts ? If you were a member of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the seventeenth century, what would you reply? How could you attract sufficient labor to the colony if you decided not to resort to slavery?

How are African Americans and Native people regarded in 1746 Boston bylaw? What stereotypes does it employ? Why do you think white people are exempt from this bylaw?

What light do these passages shed on two basic issues in colonial American history: the “original sin” of disposing Native peoples and the “fundamental flaw” of slavery?


Have your students create a timeline of the history of racism.  Let them begin and end their timeline where they see fit.  Where did they choose to begin – and why?  With the beginning of mankind?  The beginning of slavery?  The discovery of the Americas in 1492?  The beginning of the slave trade to the Americas?  Where did they end it?  With the end of slavery in the United States?  The Civil Rights Movement?  The present? 

Keep a record of their responses.  You can do this activity again once they have read more of the material in Rights Matter and see if they would construct the timeline differently. 

Copyright 2006, ACLU of Massachusetts