African Americans in Industry


This topic can be integrated into unit on African Americans in the north and race relations in the 19th century in a grade 8 classroom.

Lesson plan contents:

Compelling Question: What factors lead to economic success in 19th century Connecticut?


William Lanson, a runaway slave, influential and prosperous contractor, and member of New Haven, Connecticut's Black community, was best known as the individual responsible for extending New Haven's Long Wharf between 1810 and 1812. He was also involved in the building of the Farmington Canal. He was very successful at first, yet he lost much of his wealth and reputation before he died in 1851. Personal and economic factors played a role in his rise as "King of the Colored Race" in New Haven; race and political factors were responsible for his personal loss at the end of his life.

Supporting Questions

Eco 9-12.1 and Eco 9-12.5 refer to the Connecticut Social Studies Frameworks.

  • How did canals help to build the economy of New Haven and Connecticut? (Eco 9-12.5)
  • What was the role of the Farmington Canal in the economic development of Connecticut? (Eco 9-12.5)
  • What economic and social issues confronted African Americans in 19th century New Haven? (Eco 9-12.1)


Students will explore the life of William Hanson and understand those economic, racial and political factors responsible for his accomplishments and losses in New Haven.

Historical Context

The early 19th century witnessed America struggling to forge a post-revolutionary identity. Having come off success in its battle for independence, America experienced an explosive growth of cotton and slavery in the South which facilitated divisive debates about the rights of all men to be free. These debates affected Connecticut slaveholders and abolitionists alike, manifesting themselves in such stories as those of Prudence Crandall and John Brown. Meanwhile, Connecticut slowly established itself as one of America's most prominent manufacturing states, providing the country with iron, brass, rubber, textiles, clocks, gunpowder, and armaments. Facilitating the growth of these industries was a renewed focus on transportation infrastructure that brought about the construction of new roads and ambitious projects such as the Farmington and Windsor Locks canals.

—From: Expansion and Reform, CT