On the Fringes of the Prairie, 1800-1850

Teachers Level Two

Learning Goals and Objectives--Grades 6 - 8

Voices and Choices--Christiana Tillson
Note: It is a good idea to print Level Two for easy reference.

Voices and Choices

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 morally wrong.


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.


What do you think?

These questions, which come at the end of each story (minus "the answer"), can be used to start class discussions or be assigned as homework.

Christiana Tillson is a Yankee living among Southerners. Who were these two groups? Can you list some of their characteristics and differences?

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 owner.

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 have done?

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 their beliefs?

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 community?

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 your own.

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 Press,1953:136)

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.

3. A Debate: Should the Tillsons have purchased Lucy and Caleb as slaves?

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.


Sites on Slavery

https://www.pbs.org/wbgh/aia Africans in America series

https://www.blackvoices.com/feature/bhm_00/slavery.htm Heritage Timeline

https://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/B/fdouglas/dougxx.htm Frederick Douglas and writings

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