HOME: The Story of Maine
"They Came By Sea"
For use with Classroom Module 2
Lesson 2: Maine’s Merchant Marines
|ALIGNMENT WITH MAINE'S LEARNING RESULTS:
1. A Clear and Effective CommunicatorUses oral, written, visual, artistic, and technological
modes of expression.
Reads, listens to, and interprets messages from multiple
SOCIAL STUDIES: History: Historical Inquiry, Analysis, and Interpretation
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:
Middle Grades 5-8: 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.
- Experience the cramped quarters of a cabin aboard ship.
- Read and/or listen to excerpts from primary sources
(diaries, letters, writings) describing life at sea, primarily
from the perspectives of women and children on board ship.
- Discuss how methods of trade and transport have changed
since the era of the sailing ship.
- Write a letter to Joanna Colcord or Alice Drinkwater that
shows an understanding of the experience of being aboard ship,
and asks further historical questions about the experience.
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
One-two class periods
- Cleared space in the classroom (or elsewhere) to simulate
the quarters aboard ship.
- Tape or desks to mark off the dimensions of the quarters
- Yardsticks and/or tape measures
- Paper and pens
- Excerpts from writings by Joanna Colcord and Alice
- 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.
- Give students the following information:
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.
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.
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.
- Exact cabin sizes varied. Joanna Colcord, a native of
Searsport, traveled overseas with her family very often. On one
trip in 1899 aboard the State of Maine, she wrote a
letter to her brother Lincoln describing her cabin. The berth
was 3 ft. by 6 ft. and the cabin was 8 ft. by 5.5 ft. She had a
small amount of shelf space at the head of the berth.
- On the State of Maine, the entire captain’s cabin
measured about 20 ft. by 24 ft. This space included the
captain’s stateroom, a spare stateroom, Joanna’s room, a saloon,
a chronometer room, and a bathroom (with a leaky bathtub).
- There was some storage space in lockers, and beneath bunks
and settees. When they were at sea, all knick-knacks that could
be dislodged by the rolling waves were stowed away. At port,
though, pictures and ornaments were displayed, and carpets were
- Captain’s cabins were usually very well decorated, with
ground glass, fine woods, and intricate carvings.
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).
- What would the difficulties have been? The advantages?
- Would they have preferred staying at home while their
father went to sea?
- Where would they have liked to travel?
- How has international travel and trade changed since the
era of the sailing ship?
- What did the writings of Joanna Colcord and Alice
Drinkwater help them understand? What else would they like to
- How do primary sources like the writings—letters, diaries,
first-hand accounts—help us understand history? What limitations
do they have?
- Come up with a list of questions that were raised or left
unanswered by the writings. Write the list on the board.
Thanks to John Arrison at Penobscot Marine
Museum for help in designing this lesson plan.
- Have students research one of the historical questions they
rose in their letter, and write a report, detailing the
information they found.
- Study the China trade with students. What kinds of cargo
did American merchant marines bring over to China? What kinds of
cargo did they bring back?
- Teach students sea shanties. A good source is Songs of
American Sailormen, by Joanna Colcord. Learn the vocabulary
of the songs, and have students pretend to haul a yardarm during
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