5th Grade New York

Sugar and Slavery

This inquiry provides students with an opportunity to evaluate the relationship between the dramatic increase in European sugar consumption in the 18th and 19th centuries and the reliance on the labor of enslaved persons to produce sugar in the Western Hemisphere. In examining the compelling question–“How did sugar feed slavery?” students explore the environmental, economic, and social consequences of increased sugar production. Students work with featured sources focused on sugar production and the treatment of enslaved workers on sugar plantations. The goal of this inquiry is to provide students with an opportunity to examine the human costs of consumer behaviors through the historical example of sugar production in the Western Hemisphere. Such knowledge may help students as they make economic decisions of their own.


Compelling Question:

How Did Sugar Feed Slavery?

Staging the Question:

Complete a think-pair-share activity to determine if any popular consumer products today might be produced through inhumane means.

Supporting Question What conditions drove sugar production and slavery in the Western Hemisphere?

Formative Task List environmental, social, and economic conditions that drove sugar production and slavery.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from The Sugar Barons
Source B: Excerpt from “Sugar and Slavery”
Source C: Map of the slave trade
Source D: Image bank: Economic data on sugar production


Supporting Question How was sugar cultivated in the Western Hemisphere?

Formative Task Create a diagram that explains how sugar was produced.

Sources Source A: “Sugar Love (A Not So Sweet Story)”
Source B: Image bank: Collection of historical images of the steps in sugar production


Supporting Question What was life like for enslaved Africans on sugar plantations in the Western Hemisphere?

Formative Task Write a paragraph describing the conditions that enslaved Africans faced on sugar plantations.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
Source B: Source bank: Descriptions of work on sugar plantations

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, or essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from historical sources while acknowledging competing views.
Extension: Write a persuasive letter to a member of Congress (circa 1800) urging a nationwide boycott of sugar imported from slave plantations.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Accomplished through the Staging the Question task
Assess: Determine the severity of the potentially inhumane production practices for popular consumer products today.
Act: Create and act out a television commercial raising awareness of inhumane production practices for popular consumer products today.