African American Workers

Historical content: 
Slavery and Westward Expansion
Historical skills: 
Corroboration, Sourcing, Use of evidence

Assessment

Directions: 

Use this account from an English visitor to New York City to answer the questions that follow.

Source: 

John Benwell, an English visitor, describes African Americans on the streets of New York City in an account of his travels published in 1857.

Source text: 

“Hundreds of Negroes were hurrying to and fro through the streets, these were chiefly laborers, decently dressed, and employed either as draymen or porters. They looked happier than laborers in England . . . ” 

Question 1: Explain why a historian might not think that this passage alone provides enough evidence to draw conclusions about the working conditions of African Americans in New York City at the time.

Question 2: Three documents are described below. Explain whether each document could be used to support English traveler John Benwell’s claims about African American laborers in New York City in the 1850s. 

a. An essay by an abolitionist describing the living conditions of American slaves in the 1850s.  

b. Federal records showing the military rank of African Americans from New York that served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

c. Data from the 1860 Census showing the occupations of African Americans in each state.  

About the Assessment

Like Morale After Fredericksburg, this assessment asks students to source and corroborate historical evidence. In this assessment, students evaluate an account by an English traveller describing African American workers in New York City. Question 1 asks students to evaluate whether the excerpt provides enough evidence to draw conclusions about the working conditions facing African Americans in New York City at the time. To answer this question, students must source the document to determine whether the author’s account can be thought of as conclusive evidence. Question 2 asks students to evaluate whether additional documents could be used to corroborate the account.