This guide will inform website visitors about the digital storybook, Children's Lives at Colonial London Town: The Stories of Three Families, and offer suggestions for study and instruction. Designed for students in grades 4 and 5, the content of the book aligns with intermediate elementary topics on colonial Maryland and America. Historical thinking skills and Common Core Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies (K-5) are embedded within the student activities.
Why was the book written?
As a group of elementary school teachers from Anne Arundel County Public Schools in Maryland, we developed the storybook, Children's Lives at Colonial London Town: The Stories of Three Families, through the Teaching American History Grant Program (U.S. Department of Education). We wanted to approach early America through the lives of children to generate interest among our students and to contribute to the research in the new, and still developing, field of the history of childhood. We used our research in primary and secondary sources to write three stories about real children who once lived in London Town, Maryland. The resulting narratives, which together span from the early 1700s to the American Revolution, provide insight into the daily lives of three different families. They were from different socio-economic backgrounds, and not all of them were free. Read together, the stories provide an inclusive portrait of life in London Town in the eighteenth-century colonial south. The book examines the themes of class and social structure, gender, education and work. We hope the stories will be useful across disciplines in a variety of subject areas.
Who is the audience for the book?
Children's Lives at Colonial London Town: The Stories of Three Families was written with the classroom in mind. Few elementary texts explore the daily lives of colonial children. We used primary sources, such as court records, land and church records, and the colonial Maryland Gazette newspaper, in our research. In the case of the Hill Family, we found a book of family letters online, but there were no such records for the other families. Where possible, we have provided links to available sources. Primary sources on children, women, and the enslaved or indentured are few and far between, since these individuals rarely kept written records for themselves. To fill in their stories, we relied on secondary sources like books and articles, written by historians, about the period.
The book can be used with students during Language Arts, Reading, or Social Studies class time. We designed the accompanying instructional activities to be completed before, during, and after reading the storybook.
Students can also complete the family activities. These activities may also be used as a resource for community and extra-curricular groups.
After reading about the children who once called London Town home, plan a visit or field trip to Historic London Town and Gardens.
What themes are present in the stories and how can they be used in social studies instruction?
Four major themes are woven through the stories: Class and Social Structure, Education, Gender, and Work. The themes support concepts in the social studies disciplines of economics, geography, history, and political science. The themes can also support instruction in Reading and Language Arts units.
Class and Social Structure
What clues tell you which families were wealthy, middling, or poor? Students will notice that our three families and their children lived under rather different circumstances. The Holland Pierpoint family ran an "ordinary," or inn. All the children worked in the ordinary and some worked for other families as well. While they were not poor or even necessarily "middling," they certainly did not belong to the gentry, as those at the top were called. The story of the Holland Pierpoint family also shows the difficulties of free women trying to head a household at a time when only men were considered suitable to hold the great majority of jobs.
The Hill children would have been considered middling-gentry. The older Hill children enjoyed many comforts during the time that their father, Richard Hill, was successful. They were well educated and lived with servants. While their financial situation saw its ups and downs, overall, they maintained rather comfortable lives.
Since Jacob was enslaved, he was among the poorest inhabitants of London Town and had little hope of changing his situation. The growth of the enslaved population in Maryland certainly allowed for a stronger black community over time. As slavery became more entrenched, white lawmakers increasingly circumscribed the lives of free and enslaved African Americans.
Male indentured servants were also poor but they could, and often did, improve their economic status by learning a trade, purchasing land, or moving to the frontier at the end of their contracts. Female indentured servants often improved their lives through marriage. Unlike the fixed British class system, indentured servants in colonial America could move from poor to middling and, in some cases, even the gentry class if they were industrious, lucky, and healthy.
Education was closely tied to class and social structure. Who went to school, for how long and where, was dependent on class and social status. Most poor people, enslaved or free, were entirely self-educated. They would have learned how to survive through personal experience and family guidance. Some may have picked up a smattering of formal learning through their own efforts. If they were lucky, they were indentured to learn a trade.
Middling families may have been able to afford a local tutor or enroll their children in a private school. Their children's education depended on birth order, gender, and religion. Boys were more likely to be formally educated than girls. Boys' education emphasized math, science, and writing. Wealthier girls were taught languages, arts and literatures, and household management. Gentry or wealthy families often chose to further educate male children in Europe, where they attended universities.
Whether one was born a boy or a girl profoundly influenced the course of one's life in early America. Gender roles and norms were taught at home, enforced by religion, and enshrined in law. The division of labor was defined by one's gender, and men and women worked at very different jobs. Boys and girls learned their roles early. Women were responsible for the home and such tasks as cooking, cleaning, gardening, caring for children, and the health of the family. Some free women assisted their husbands in family businesses. The world beyond the home was the domain of men. Free men were responsible for providing for their families through farming, a trade, business ventures, or inherited wealth.
Free men dominated the world of commerce and politics. While unmarried free women had quite a few legal rights, such as the right to own property, to enter into contracts, or to devise a will, once they married, their legal rights were subsumed under those of their husbands.' Married women, for instance, could not sue in court (as they could not enter into contracts), or leave their property to whomever they wanted. Such legal restrictions made it difficult for poorer women to make a living. The lives of wealthier women may have been more comfortable, yet their prospects were still restricted by their gender.
Gender, social status and class influenced how people made a living. While the great majority of people worked with their own hands, those at the top of colonial society largely relied on the labor of others. Members of the elite or gentry spent their time managing the labor of others, as well as in social and political pursuits. Their children were trained to follow in their footsteps. The middling class - which included merchants, farmers, sea captains, doctors and tradesmen - likewise employed hired or bound labor, but also made use of family labor. Their children might find themselves helping out on the family farm or business or learning a trade. Poorer families relied exclusively on their own labor, without outside help and they frequently worked for others, either as day laborers or on a more permanent basis. Enslaved people were forced to work for others, while also maintaining their own households. Their children were likely to be enslaved as well.
Themes and Student Reading
Students can use context clues, both explicit and implied in the text, to identify the themes in each chapter. When students are able to identify themes, they demonstrate a level of sophistication in their reading comprehension. They also show their understanding by synthesizing main ideas across chapters.
For struggling and below-level readers - Identify key phrases or words in the text to create a list of possible themes. Re-visit the text to narrow the list of possible themes. Then select the theme by corroborating the text one final time.
For on-level and above-level readers - Provide a list of the possible themes. Students should then locate words and phrases in the text that support the theme/s they identified. Readers should be able to complete this task independently.
For more ideas, see Strategies for Before Reading, During Reading, and Before Writing.