Home: The Story of Maine
They Came By Sea

Lesson 2: Maine’s Merchant Marines

For use with Classroom Module 2

Alignment with the Maine Learning Results:
Guiding Principles:
Uses oral, written, visual, artistic, and technological modes of expression.
Reads, listens to, and interprets messages from multiple sources.

Social Studies:

Students will learn to evaluate resource material such as documents, artifacts, maps, artworks, and literature, and to make judgments about the perspectives of the authors and their credibility when interpreting current historical events. Students will be able to:

Formulate historical questions based on examination of primary and secondary sources including documents, eyewitness accounts, letters and diaries, artifacts, real or simulated historical sites, charts, graphs, diagrams, and written texts.

Students will:

Background Information:
Maine was a cosmopolitan place in the mid-nineteenth century. It was one of the centers of shipbuilding in the U.S., and its small towns supplied a large number of sailors, officers, and ship’s captains. These captains would often bring their wives and children aboard. In this activity, students learn a bit about what it might have been like to travel aboard ship.

Timing: One-two class periods



  1. View the video with the class. Discuss the travel at sea. Tell students they will have a chance to get a feel for what this might have been like.
  2. Give students the following information:
  3. Find a place that is wide enough for students to measure out the dimensions of the captain’s cabin and Joanna’s room. Have students mark off the dimensions on the floor with masking tape. If you like, mark off approximate divisions for the captain’s stateroom, the bathroom, the saloon, the spare stateroom, and the chronometer room.
  4. Ask students to stand within the space they have marked off. Have them explore it—how big are the rooms? The bunks? The storage space? How does the space compare to their own rooms in their own homes? What could they fit in this space? Remind them that children going to sea had to pack lightly, because there was not much room, and not much storage space for unnecessary items. But trips could last from six months to a year. While they are still standing or sitting in the "cabin," have students make a list of items of their own that they would bring on a year-long trip from Maine to China and back. What would they bring? Why? Ask some students to share their answers.
  5. As students sit within their quarters, read to them some of the excerpts of "Domestic Life on American Sailing Ships," "Childhood at Sea," and A Seafaring Legacy. When you have finished reading, tell students they may get up and return to their seats. Discuss the experience with students. Ask them to share their observations and feelings about what life aboard ship must have been like.
  6. Have students to write a letter to either Joanna Colcord or Alice Drinkwater. Their letter should summarize what they learned from their writings, and should list 1-3 questions that were raised by their writings. Grade students according to the thoughtfulness and thoroughness of their work, using a check system (check plus, check, or check minus).


Thanks to John Arrison at Penobscot Marine Museum for help in designing this lesson plan.