Introduction and Indexes Biography Lessons Plantation Community Lessons Colony into Commonwealth Lessons
Making a Nation Lessons
The Plantation Community
Lesson Eight




It is Saturday evening just before dark in the year 1775. The work day is over at Gunston Hall.

George Mason's slaves are gathering outside to relax, eat, and spend time together. Some of the older slaves will join in singing some of the songs they remember from their homeland. The children practice a favorite dance.

We know little about the music played or sung by slaves in 18th-century America. However, we do know that songs and dances for parties and religious ceremonies, along with work songs, were an important part of their daily life. The music contained some of the rhythms and tunes which the slaves remembered from their home country. The music was also influenced by what they heard in the house of the plantation owner.

(in small groups)

The picture above is of a watercolor that was probably painted on a plantation in South Carolina at the end of the 18th century. What can you learn about slave music from looking at this painting? Answer these questions:

1. Describe the setting of this painting (where the action is taking place). Can you figure out what the buildings might be?

2. The central figure in this painting may be jumping over a stick. This may mean that a wedding is taking place. Do you think that this might be a wedding? Find clues in the painting to support your answer.

3. Circle the two instruments in the painting. The musician at the far right may be playing the African gudugudu. It consists of a hollow piece of wood which is covered with an animal skin. The musician taps the wood with pieces of leather. What modern instrument resembles the gudugudu?

4. The person next to the gudugudu musician may be playing an African molo with four strings. The body of this instrument is a hollow gourd (shell of a fruit). What modern instrument resembles the molo?

5. There are not many paintings which show slaves on a plantation. Why do you think this is so?

6. Who do you think may have painted this picture? What might have been his or her reason for painting it?

The painting, The Old Plantation, is in the collection of The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Center, Williamsburg, Virginia.

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Gunston Hall Plantation
Mason Neck, Virginia 22079
703.550.9480 fax

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