What was life like for people living in the original thirteen British colonies during the late 1700s? How and why did life differ for families in different areas? How did life in the colonies influence the lives we lead today?
First, read the entire lesson to get a sense of the content involved. You should be familiar with core facts about colonial life in various regions. See key ideas listed within individual activities below. Review the Web sites embedded in the activities.
For profiles of colonial life in different regions, go to Colonial Culture, available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource Digital History, and read background information about New England, Middle Colonies, and Chesapeake Colonies. You may also want to read about Colonial Culture, Colonial Economy, and Colonial Government and Politics.
Any other resources you have available related to colonial life might offer additional information for you or your students.
Make copies of maps, worksheets, and any other resources you will distribute to students.
Distribute to all students a blank map of the United States. Ask students to label the thirteen original English colonies in pencil to the best of their knowledge. If you need a blank U.S. map, you can print one from the EDSITEment-reviewed resource National Geographic Xpeditions. In the Atlas, select "United States of America" and choose "Basic" to get a blank map of the U.S. today.
After students have attempted to label the colonies, show them a map of the U.S. colonies and territories in 1775. You can find such a U.S. Territorial Map 1775, available through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource American Studies at UVA. You can either project or distribute this map.
Ask students to correctly label their maps with the names of the 13 original English colonies in ink. Then ask them to color three different colonial regions in different colors using colored pencils: New England, Middle Colonies, and Southern Colonies. They should also make a key, which includes a list of colonies in each region (see below).
New England—Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island (Vermont and Maine came later) Middle Colonies—New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware Southern Colonies—Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia
Students should also trace the lines of the Mississippi River and the Ohio River. Then they should shade in the section between the original colonies and the Mississippi, and label this region "British Territories." They should shade the part of the country west of the Mississippi with another color or marking and label it "Other Territories." Finally, they should label the map "The British Colonies in 1775."
Once they have finished, discuss as a class the significance of physical geography in the late 1700s, when colonists were settling the area that is now the United States. Some ideas to address in the discussion might include the following:
Next, discuss with students what was going on during that period in American history. Some ideas to address in the discussion might include the following:
This activity will introduce students to the work of historians by asking them to glean information about people in the past from artifacts they left behind. First, ask students if they know what an artifact is. Explain that an artifact is any object created by people, and that historians use artifacts to learn about life in the past. Discuss examples of artifacts in the classroom (e.g., book, desk, pencil, etc.) and what they might tell someone in the future about people's lives today.
Explain the difference between an observation and an interpretation. For example, you might observe that a book has writing inside. Then you might make the interpretation that a large number of books in the classroom might indicate that people do a lot of reading for information there. But this is not a proven fact based solely on the observation that there are books in the room. They could be used as booster seats! This is an important note about the work of historians—the stories they tell about the past include many interpretations based on observations of artifacts as well as other primary sources, which include actual accounts of the past from people who were there at the time. Even these accounts involve some interpretation from the person giving them, however. Of course the more evidence there is, the stronger the likelihood that interpretations are accurate.
Next, divide the class into two groups: the Ipswich, Massachusetts group and the Mill Creek, Delaware group. The Massachusetts group should investigate the Choate family at the Within These Walls website, available on the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History, through the EDSITEment-reviewed resource Digital History, and fill out the Historian's Questions worksheet, provided in pdf format, based on their investigation. The Delaware group should go investigate the Springer family at the Smithsonian website You Be the Historian and fill out the same worksheet.
Depending on how many computers you have available, you many need to use different configurations of students. If you have a computer lab available, all students can work at the same time. If you only have a few computers available, you can divide the class into groups of 3-5 students and rotate the groups at the computer while the other students work on another activity.
When not at the computer, students can do the following activity: Print out and distribute Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior, available through EDSITEment-reviewed resource The Papers of George Washington. Explain that this was a popular document used in schools at the time, and this version of the list was found copied into George Washington's notebook when he was about 16. Ask students to read the list and write a paragraph explaining what it tells you about the life of a colonial adolescent in the 1700s and another paragraph telling how his or her life might compare to theirs. (You may want to copy and paste the text into a new document for better printing.)
"A youthful George Washington copied out these 110 simple 'Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation' as a school training exercise. This code of conduct is a simplified version of Francis Hawkins' Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men, which was based on a sixteenth-century set of rules compiled for young gentlemen by Jesuit instructors. Washington's handwriting, grammar, and spelling reflect his youth, and the 'Rules' reflect his strong desire to be a gentleman planter."
When students have completed their investigations, spend some time as a class discussing their findings.
In this activity, students write letters to each other from the perspectives of children in the Springer and Choate families. Tell students that they should imagine that the Springer and Choate families are cousins. Those who have studied the Springer family will identify themselves as one of their children and write a letter to a cousin in the Choate family. Those who have studied the Choate family will identify themselves as one of their children and write a letter to a cousin in the Springer family. Students should use all they have learned from their studies of the family's artifacts as well as other learning experiences about colonial life in America to write a letter that is authentic, although they are encouraged to use their imaginations to create realistic details.
Letters should follow standard friendly letter format and should include, at a minimum, the following components:
Letters should be distributed to members of the other group, so that each student receives one. If there is time, students should respond to the letters they receive, which will give them a chance to learn more about the other family and how their lives are both similar and different.
Finally, discuss as a group (or in small groups) how life in colonial America is both similar to and different from life in America today. Ask students to identify ways in which colonial pioneers influenced the way we live now. You can let the conversation flow naturally, or you can choose one or more themes to prompt focused discussion. Some possible themes to discuss might include the following:
3 class periods