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The Two Williamsburgs


Over half of the population of Williamsburg in the eighteenth century were enslaved African Americans. They provided labor as servants in households, as field hands on farms and plantations, and as skilled help in the trades. They also provided services for the general public and the town as a whole. Their efforts were essential to the operation of homes, businesses, and farms of Williamsburg.

A Williamsburg Household provides students with a fictional but historically authentic glimpse into the lives of some people who lived and toiled in Williamsburg in the 1700's.

Time Required

This lesson can be covered in approximately four to six 45-minute sessions. This includes time for reading, completing the organizer, and writing an essay.



As a result of this lesson, the student will be able to:

  • contrast the lives of enslaved and free residents of Williamsburg in the eighteenth century
  • write historical fiction based on facts

Setting the Stage

There were two main groups of people living in eighteenth-century Williamsburg: enslaved African Americans and European-American colonists. The contrasts in the lives of the two groups were striking. Preview the categories included on the graphic organizer to be sure students understand each one.

Read the story A Williamsburg Household to the class. Define any difficult words along the way.


Divide class into seven cooperative groups. Assign each group one of the seven categories listed in the Graphic Organizer: The Two Williamsburgs. Advise students to listen carefully and take notes on information about their particular category.

Reread A Williamsburg Household to the class, a page or two at a time. Stop to guide students in finding information on the topic for writing their individual papers. At the end of each re-reading session, give each cooperative group a few minutes to discuss among themselves and record any information about their assigned category that they heard in the story.

Reassemble the class. Using the large-scale graphic organizer, record the information as each group shares facts from the story that fit its category. Others may add thoughts and ideas. Students should fill in their own organizers along with the teacher.

Next, have each student write an essay on life in a Williamsburg household. Direct each student to use the quotation below from the end of the book A Williamsburg Household and their own historical knowledge from the Graphic Organizer: The Two Williamsburgs to answer the following question, Why does the book say life would be good "for a brief time?"

A few hours later, slaves from other households in town began to arrive for the gathering. Tonight they could leave behind the drudgery of their everyday lives. It was one of their few evenings of freedom -- a chance to rekindle their spirits.
Soon the singing and dancing and stories and sharing would begin and continue well into the night. For a brief time, life would be good in the slave quarters of one Williamsburg household.

Direct students to use facts and details from their knowledge as history students. Have them include in their answer the following:

  • Differences in the everyday lives of the slaves and free people
  • The reason the slaves' time for fun was brief
  • Why they needed to "rekindle their spirits"

Students could also illustrate the differences they describe in their essays.


Grade essay on life in a Williamsburg household using a rubric. Provide the rubric to students before they begin their essays.


This lesson plan was developed by Martha Berner and Carol Brown of the Cajon Valley School District, San Diego County, California. If you have a lesson plan which you would like to share with teachers, please send to School & Group Services, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, P.O. Box 627, Williamsburg, Virginia, 23187.