Lesson Plans: Grades 3-5

Jamestown Changes

Created September 28, 2010


The Lesson


Jamestown Changes: Jamestown Letter

William Buckland's Indenture Collection of Gunston Hall Plantation

In this lesson, students will study census data showing the names and occupations of early settlers of the English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, to discern how life changed in the Jamestown settlement in the first few years after it was founded.

In this lesson, students will study census data showing the names and occupations of early settlers of the English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, to discern how life changed in the Jamestown settlement in the first few years after it was founded.

Guiding Questions

What was it like to live in the English settlement at Jamestown, Virginia?

Learning Objectives

  • To gain experience gathering information from primary sources.
  • To examine changes over time in conditions at Jamestown as revealed in primary documents from early years in the colony.
  • To organize a statement of findings.

Lesson Activities

Activity 1. Learn about life in the settlement

Before the day of the lesson and after the class is familiar with the history of Jamestown, bookmark Virtual Jamestown, available through EDSITEment, and practice moving between the pages used in the lesson. Within the section titled "The Jamestown Experience," there are four types of primary source documents from the Jamestown settlement: censuses, letters, laws and first-hand accounts. Students will review these documents to learn about life in the settlement. (NOTE TO TEACHER: Students will find the censuses easiest to read and understand among the documents offered on this website. The first-hand accounts are fascinating but, because the original spelling has been retained, they may be difficult for many students to read.)

It may be helpful to provide students with guidelines for analyzing the census data and other information presented in the primary source documents they will study in this lesson. American Memory from the Library of Congress offers a helpful set of guidelines for using primary sources in the classroom. (To find them, go to American Memory, click Learning Page, click Lesson Ideas and select the link to Using Primary Sources in the Classroom. Section IV, on analyzing statistical data, and Section V, on analyzing text, including documents in original handwriting or language, may be particularly helpful to students.)

The Digital Classroom from the National Archives and Records Administration also offers ideas for using primary source documents in the classroom on its History in the Raw page, as well as a Worksheet for Analyzing Primary Documents.(To find them, go to The Digital Classroom and select History in the Raw; or click Document Analysis Worksheets and select Written Document from the list of choices.) You may wish to download these resources for students before beginning the lesson.

If some time has passed since students studied Jamestown, remind them of what they learned about this early American settlement.

Activity 2. Changes that took place

Begin the lesson by telling students they are going to read about life in Jamestown in the early years after the colony was established in 1607. The students' job is to look for changes that took place in the settlement. Students will choose two documents from within a set (either census materials, letters, laws, or first-hand accounts) to compare. This comparison should enable students to draw some conclusions about life in the settlement.

Tell the students they are acting as historians today because they are studying primary sources of information about Jamestown. After studying the documents, students will prepare a brief statement about what they have learned by studying the primary source documents.

Activity 3. What life was like for the early settlers

Working alone or in groups, students should familiarize themselves with some of the primary source documents from Virtual Jamestown -- the censuses, letters, laws, and first-hand accounts. Allow time for students to study the documents -- the style in which they're written, the names and occupations listed on the census forms, the language used and the thoughts expressed in the letters and first-hand accounts.

These documents give an idea of what life was like for the early settlers who emigrated to Jamestown. For example, the census of original Jamestown settlers from 1607 lists six council members, one preacher, six carpenters, one blacksmith, one sailor, one barber and 29 gentlemen. (A gentleman was an upper-class man who could afford to hire laborers to work for him so he could pursue a life of leisure. Gentlemen also were entitled to bear arms.) Lead students in a discussion of how the Jamestown community would function, based on the occupations listed on the census form. The settlers would want to build shelter for protection from the weather. Do students think six carpenters would be able to accommodate the needs of all the settlers? What other jobs or skills might be important to people living in a new country, trying to settle a new area?

Activity 4. Review first-hand accounts

Virtual Jamestown also offers first-hand accounts written by some of the early Jamestown settlers. Particularly interesting selections include the letter written by John Pory, and the first-hand accounts of Master George Percy and Richard Frethorne. Many students will enjoy an opportunity to read what life was like in the colony from the point of view of someone who lived there. Spend a few moments talking with students about the way these accounts are written and how they differ from what someone might write today.

The first-hand accounts are shown with the authors' original 17th-century spelling. Students may not recognize all of the words. The first English dictionary was written in 1604 by Robert Cawdrey, a schoolmaster. By the time Jamestown was founded in 1607, few people had seen Mr. Cawdrey's dictionary, and there was still no agreement about the one correct spelling for every word. However, students will easily recognize some of the strange spellings, because people still use them today when they want a word to seem old. Ask students if they have ever seen a store with the word "Shoppe" in its name.

If you wish, have students work in groups to read the first-hand accounts of events at Jamestown. Students might make a dictionary showing how words were spelled in the archival document and how they would be spelled today (for example, corne = corn). As an alternative, they could copy the text of one of the first-hand accounts into a word processing file, highlight the strange words and create a glossary at the end of the document, noting current spelling and meaning.

Activity 5. Create a simulated Jamestown document

After students have reviewed and studied the primary source documents, they will be prepared to create a simulated Jamestown document that could be a primary source from the colony. For example, students could write a diary entry of an original Jamestown settler, one of the first women to arrive at the settlement, someone living through the Starving Time or a successful tobacco farmer in 1660; they could write first-hand accounts of events that took place at Jamestown or a letter to a friend or relative who remained in England. Students may wish to consult some of the maps and images available in the Reference Center of Virtual Jamestown as they construct their source documents. You may wish to show students how to use tea staining or some other technique to make the final version of the documents look old.

Activity 6. Compare source documents

Students should choose two primary source documents from the same set (i.e., two census documents or two letters) and use them in a comparison exercise. What differences can students identify between the two documents? For example, students comparing first-hand accounts should consider the experiences and perspective of the writer. They may notice differences in the writers' occupations, the descriptions of their surroundings, their interactions with other settlers or with Native Americans living in the area, or the emotions expressed in their writing. If students select census forms for their comparison, they should notice that the census of original settlers to arrive in Jamestown includes 29 gentlemen, and does not include any laborers; the first supply of settlers, who arrived in January 1608, included many gentlemen, plus 21 laborers and several tailors to make clothes. What conclusions can students draw about Jamestown and the people who settled it from the similarities and differences they observe in these source documents?

After their review, students should prepare a brief summary of changes in Jamestown by filling in the blanks in the following statement. (For older students, use the Document Analysis Worksheet from the National Archives Digital Classroom at http://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/worksheets/document.html.)

I have studied the following two documents:
and _____________________________.
The first document, ___________________________,
contained the following: ___________________________.
The second document, _____________________________,
contained the following: ________________________.
Based on my studies, I conclude that _________________.

Have the class create a timeline of events at Jamestown, using the timeline available through Virtual Jamestown as a guide. They could create either a virtual timeline to be posted on your school's website, or a timeline that will be displayed in the classroom or hallway. The students' timeline should include the primary source documents they studied from Virtual Jamestown, as well as the simulated source documents they created and any additional dates and information drawn from students' own research. The timeline will provide a look at what it was like to live as a settler in the Jamestown colony.

As a geography assignment, have students plot information from the census documents about early settlers' occupations on a town map of the Jamestown settlement. Based on the number of settlers and their various occupations, where do students think the settlers would have lived and worked? How would the settlement have changed after the arrival of the first supply of settlers in January 1608, and after the second supply later that year? Students can get an idea of what original buildings in Jamestown would have looked like by visiting the APVA Jamestown Rediscovery Project website, available through Virtual Jamestown (go to Reference Center and click on Links to locate the site).


In your evaluation of students' work, you may wish to consider students' ability to do the following:

  • Use primary source documents to draw a conclusion.
  • Interpret primary source documents with an awareness of their historical context (time and place where they were written), and of the goals and biases of the writer (the writer's role in events described, the documents' intended audience, the amount of time elapsed between events and the creation of the document, whether the document was created for personal, public or private use, etc.).
  • Find and express similarities and differences between two primary source documents.
  • Accurately represent people and situations of another time or culture (i.e., the early Jamestown settlement) through writing and/or role-playing.
  • Apply what they have learned from primary source documents to new scenarios.
  • Conduct Internet research; navigate a website.

Extending The Lesson

Technology Skills Extension:
If you wish, this lesson can also be used to help teach students the knowledge acquisition skills they need to use the Internet as a research tool. With your guidance, have students use the computer to find and print out the primary source documents they will study. Just before they open the website, ask students what they might expect to find on a site titled "Virtual Jamestown."

  • Tell the students to open Virtual Jamestown. They will find themselves in the part of the website sometimes called the gateway. What is there beyond an invitation to explore the website? Enter.
  • Students should note that the site has a visual map with several selections for subjects covered on the site. The map shows different "rooms" in a building, resembling a museum or library. Without clicking, students should move the cursor over the map. They should notice two changes: the cursor changes to a hand, and a web address (URL) appears at the bottom of the screen. Move the cursor over different sections of the image and notice that each room on the map takes students to a different link within the site. This page is a high-tech table of contents!
  • Ask students to click on the "Public Records" section of the map. What changes do they notice in the map? Now students should move the cursor over the list of bulleted words ("Censuses," "State Papers" and "Laws"). What happens? This list is also a kind of table of contents; each word is a link to a set of documents actually written at the time Jamestown was settled.
  • Have students click on "Censuses." This page is another virtual table of contents, with links to census documents prepared at different times in the settlement's history. There is also an option to "Return to Table of Contents." Where will students end up if they click on this link? Will they get back to the list of Public Records documents? Ask them to try it.
  • Oops! They're back where they started. Tell students to click their way back to the "Censuses" page. If they want to get back to the list of documents, they should use the back button on the browser.
  • Direct students to open and print out the primary source documents (censuses, laws, letters and first-hand accounts) they will study. Once they have printed the documents, they are ready for step 1 of the lesson.

Additional Extensions:

  • If you wish, conduct a class seminar in which students present the statement of findings developed after comparing two primary source documents. Allow time for all students to present their statements about what they have learned from studying the source materials from Virtual Jamestown. Summarize the information presented and encourage discussion among students. If practical, videotape the seminar to show students for self-evaluation.
  • Conduct a role-playing exercise in which students take on the identity of one of the Jamestown settlers whom they read about in the primary source documents from Virtual Jamestown or someone whom they wrote about in their simulated documents. To prepare for the role-playing exercise, students may wish to conduct additional research into the occupations of the Jamestown settlers.
  • Have students take censuses of their families with the help of a parent. First, students should make a list of every living creature in their house on the day they were born. Then, they should make a list of every living creature in their house today. What has changed? What conclusions might a historian of the future draw from the students' lists?
  • Direct students' attention to the end of the census of the second supply of settlers to arrive at Jamestown. What do they notice? This group, which arrived more than a year after the colony was first settled, included the first two women to arrive at the settlement. Are students surprised to learn this? Ask students to imagine what it would be like to settle a new colony with only men and boys. What would life be like for the men and boys living in the settlement? What would life be like for the women and girls who stayed behind?
  • Additional lesson plans are available on Virtual Jamestown in the Teaching Materials section.

The Basics

Time Required

2 class periods

Subject Areas
  • History and Social Studies
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter > Archaeology
  • Art and Culture > Subject Matter
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. > Revolution and the New Nation (1754-1820s)
  • History and Social Studies > U.S. History
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Exploration & Discovery
  • History and Social Studies > Themes > Immigration/Migration
  • Art and Culture
  • Analysis
  • Creative writing
  • Critical thinking
  • Data analysis
  • Gathering, classifying and interpreting written, oral and visual information
  • Historical analysis
  • Internet skills
  • Using primary sources