Goals and Objectives--Grades 6 - 8
Voices and Choices--Christiana Tillson
Note: It is a good idea to print
Level Two for easy reference.
Christiana Tillson is a Yankee woman who has
moved to Illinois from the East with her husband. She is confronted
with the issue of slavery in a very personal manner and must decide
whether or not to own slaves despite her feelings that slavery is
These themes can be explored with either a social studies or
language arts curriculum. Use these themes to tie in other
resources to your class discussion, i.e., other books, other
cultures, students' own lives.
- The network of different communities that existed in
Illinois. In order to survive and develop the frontier these
communities had to work together and co-exist. Each community
influenced the other in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.
- Point of view--this story is told through the eyes of
Christiana Tillson. How would the story change if it had been told
from another perspective? What is the value of hearing more than
one point of view?
- Individual choice as limited by the social
environment--Christiana has to compromise her views on slavery
to make the best choice she can under the circumstances. How are
our choices limited by the society that we live in?
These questions, which come at the end of each story (minus "the
answer"), can be used to start class discussions or be assigned as
Christiana Tillson is a Yankee living among Southerners. Who
were these two groups? Can you list some of their characteristics
Point out that the Southerners represented a much larger
percentage of the population than the Yankees at this time.
In what ways was Christiana's choice--of how to handle Lucy and
Caleb--limited by her social environment?
Discuss with students how people become co-opted in their
beliefs. Christiana had to cooperate with a state government that
was controlled by southern politicians. She and her husband faced
an economic risk if they liberated Lucy and Caleb--the laws
governing the territories mandated that the responsibility for
making good any debt freed slaves accrued fell to those that had
freed them. If they gave them protection as runaway slaves and were
caught, Christiana and her husband would have to pay a fine of $500
in addition to returning Lucy and Caleb to their original
How could Christiana make her feelings toward slavery known
without openly antagonizing her neighbors and getting in trouble
with the law? Do you think she did the best thing? What would you
This question allows students to put themselves in Christiana's
position after having considered the types of limitations placed on
her by her social environment. Do students have ideals or beliefs
of their own which could put them in a vulnerable position with
regard to the mainstream society? Have they been able to uphold
Whose perspective do we read about? How might this story be
different if we heard it from the perspective of Caleb and Lucy or
from Mr. McLaughlin, their previous owner?
Knowing this was written from Christiana's perspective, does
that change the "truth" of the story. Can this story have three
"truths" depending on who tells it? How does perspective interfere
with our perception of reality?
List three aspects that make this memoir an important
historical document. What other memoirs, diaries, and letters have
you read and in what way are they historical documents?
This memoir is important because it was written by a woman, it
discusses the issues surrounding slavery before the civil war, and
it describes early pioneer life in America and in Illinois.
What were the different occupations that Mr. Tillson held over
the years? How did his work link Hillsboro to a larger
Mr. Tillson had held jobs which required an education and which
were about connecting groups: he was a merchant, a postmaster and
finally the founder of a school, Hillsboro Academy.
These are suggested classroom activities and student projects
that you may want to use with your students or as models to create
1. Story Starter
The following passage is an excerpt from Christiana's memoirs.
Use this paragraph as a story starter. What happens next?
The day before we left Caleb came to us with one of his
sanctimonious faces that he could put on whenever he wanted to
carry any point, and after a profound bow and a speech of negro
blarney, made known his request that your father would give him
something to show that he was a free man; that he wanted to live
and die with us and the dear children; but life was onsartain, and
we might not live to come back, and then he and Lucy would have to
be sold like other [negroes].
(Excerpt from: Christiana Tillson, A Woman's
Story of Pioneer Illinois, Chicago: The Lakeside
2. Writing A Memoir
Think about choices you've made in your lifetime. Were any of
these choices limited by your social environment? Write about one
of these events as if you were writing your memoir.
- This story was based on Christiana's memoirs. Memoirs are
personal accounts of the events shaping a person's life.
3. A Debate: Should the Tillsons have purchased Lucy and Caleb
Divide the class in two and have them debate the Tillsons'
decision to buy Lucy and Caleb as slaves. Have one side debate for
this purchase and one side debate against this purchase.
- As part of their research, students can look at the Web site
Slavery in America at:
Under "People and Slavery" students will be able to access The
Autobiography of Fredrick Douglas.
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