Lesson:  Heroes of the Underground Railroad  11th grade Honors USII or Advanced Placement United States History

Michael O’Toole- Social Studies teacher River Dell High School



SWBAT evaluate heroic qualities, identify heroic accomplishments of abolitionists and UGRR participants and reaction to the Compromise of 1850.  They will share what they learn the class in the form of a project and oral presentation at the end of the unit.



Students have read and taken notes on the 5 separate bills comprising the Compromise of 1850

Materials:  copies of lesson materials, CD player, Overhead Projector or Whiteboard, internet access.



Introductory Activity-


Students are asked to think about their own heroes, a definition of heroism and what they consider to be heroic traits or attributes. On a piece of paper, they are to record 5 of their heroes and their rationale for selecting them. 

(If possible, while the students work, to help stimulate thought and engage auditory learners, play Mariah Cary’s song Hero from the Music Box album and project the lyrics on the overhead or whiteboard. see lyrics below*)


After 5 minutes, students will share their heroes and heroic traits with their partners and come up with an operating definition for heroism.  Then, each pair will share this with the entire class.


Share the dictionary definition of hero and heroism.  Ask students to compare their heroes and definition with the definition.



  1. A person noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life: soldiers and nurses who were heroes in an unpopular war.

2.  A person noted for special achievement in a particular field: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/hero


n : the qualities of a hero or heroine; exceptional or heroic courage when facing danger (especially in battle); "he showed great heroism in battle"; "he received a medal for valor" [syn: gallantry, valor, valour, valorousness, valiance, valiancy]


Historical Content-

Introduce the Underground Railroad – The Landmarks UGRR timeline can provide a good overview of dates, people and events (project this on the white board). http://www.dickinson.edu/departments/hist/NEHworkshops/NEH/resource/timeline.htm

After reviewing some of the background of the underground railroad and the abolitionist movement, ask the students to summarize their reading on the provisions of the Compromise of 1850. 

Instructor will focus the discussion on the Fugitive Slave act and its enforcement and then present two historical developments that result from the enforcement of this law in the early 1850s.

Use of Primary Source Documents-  Introduce two situations that developed after the Compromise of 1850 fugative slave act was strengthened:

- the riot at Christiana and the kidnapping of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker


Homework assignment using primary source documents.

Demonstrate for the students the “In their own words” website and where they will be going to do their homework.

For homework students are to imagine that they are crime scene investagators.  Something has happened in each of these situations and they are to ascertain what, take note of the details.  Students are to access the “In Their Own Words” site http://deila.dickinson.edu/theirownwords/index.html

And read two accounts. 

One from the book of William Still entitled “The Kidnapping of Rachel and Elizabeth Parker-and the Murder of Joseph Miller pgs 551-555

And the second

William Uhler Hensel “The Christiana Riot and the Treason Trials of 1851: An Historical Sketch, Lancaster PA. pgs 30-39.


The second day of class will focus on these two primary source accounts and the issues of abolitionism, opposition to slavery, the law, the implications of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 and heroism.

From William Still’s book




Lesson goals-


Students will consider what makes a hero and then examine heroes of the UGRR.  By focusing on 2 events of 1851-52 and the primary source documents that elaborate on them, they can assess the impact of and reaction to the Compromise of 1850 and the tougher Fugitive Slave Act.  Students will evaluate primary source documents, utilize computer and internet skills and create a project in which they will summarize and determine elements are is most important.



































Mariah Cary




Music Box

There's a hero
If you look inside your heart
You don't have to be afraid
Of what you are
There's an answer
If you reach into your soul
And the sorrow that you know
Will melt away

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you'll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you

It's a long road
When you face the world alone
No one reaches out a hand
For you to hold
You can find love
If you search within yourself
And the emptiness you felt
Will disappear


Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don't let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You'll find the way


























Unit Assessment project-

Heroes of UGRR (and other abolitionists)  Students will research one of the following and prepare a 5 minute presentation for the class on this person’s contributions to fight against slavery.  The will create a “certificate of merit” award highlighting his/her greatest accomplishments which will be presented to the class and then displayed in the classroom.


1) Isaac Hopper

2) Jim Simcoe

3) Levi Coffin

4) Vestal Coffin

5) James Lundy

6) John Rankin

7) Josiah Henson

8) William Lloyd Garrison

9) William Wells Brown

10) Harriet Jacobs

11) David Ruggles

12) James McCrummel

13) Robert Purvis

14) Frederick Douglass

15) John Van Zandt

16) George De Baptiste

17) Henry Bibb

18) Jonathan Walker

19) William Still

20) Henry “Box” Brown

21) Harriet Tubman

22) Daniel Kauffman

23) Thomas Garrett

24) Frederic Wilkins

25) William Parker

26) Harriet Beecher Stowe

27) Gerrit Smith

28) Mary Ann Shadd

29) Joshua Glover

30) Anthony Burns

31) Passmore Williamson

32) Margaret Garner

33) Udney Hyde