American Revolution Unit Study
“Long live the king” was a common toast heard among Englishmen of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries living in the American colonies. The American Revolution started the day the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence … or wait, maybe it was when the first shot was fired in Lexington the morning of April 19, 1775, … or perhaps it was during the Boston Massacre or the Boston Tea Party! Come with me and we’ll venture back a little further in time to understand the Revolutionary War and why it started.
Many people think the war started because the colonists were fired up over “taxation without representation,” but there’s more to the story than that! We must go back even earlier and recall several conflicts that took place as the British sought to expand their empire in the New World. In 1664, a hundred years before the colonies revolted, the British surprised and took over the Dutch city of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island. British hostilities with the French followed in King William’s War in 1689, Queen Anne’s War in 1702, and King George’s War in 1744. Each time, British soldiers fought alongside local militias from the English colonies. We must not forget the French and Indian War, which began in 1754 and ended four years later when France surrendered her Canadian lands to the British! Never was the allegiance of these people, who had come from England and other lands to settle the New World, felt more strongly than as they celebrated in the streets—basking in the glory of an empire seemingly at the height of its power.
As the victory began to fade, it became clear that certain underlying problems had not been resolved. One such problem was the war debt. In an effort to raise money, Parliament passed the Revenue Act (Sugar Act), the Molasses Act, and a series of others. The British found it necessary to raise money for defraying the expenses of defending and protecting Americans with their 10,000-man British army. In 1764, the outspoken radical Sam Adams protested that if the British could tax molasses, what would stop them from taxing everything? Although Sam’s attack on British policy was not altogether received, James Otis spoke up, saying, “no parts of His Majesty’s dominions can be taxed without consent” and “every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature.” This part of his speech is where the famil- Certain underlying problems had not been resolved. iar slogan “No taxation without representation” came from!
In 1765, a Stamp Act was imposed and riots erupted with opposition in every port city up and down the eastern seaboard. You can do further reading to explore the details of the events that took place for the next ten years, but we know that the Sons of Liberty began to hold meetings and a Continental Congress was formed. By 1775 a declaration for independence was drafted as these fiery men of principle began to stand up and have a voice. Starting a new country was no small task, and there were many reasons that not every person was in favor of breaking away from the mother country.
Establish an understanding of England and her relationship to the American colonies by starting with geography. Many of your books will refer to the colonists being ruled by England some 3,000 miles away. Point this out to your children on a world map.
Using a black line map, have students mark and label England and the colonies. Also obtain a close-up map of the original 13 colonies and have students label these as well.
Divide a sheet into three columns, labeling them “New England,” “Middle,” and “Southern” so that as you read and study students can list colonies, prominent Revolutionary people, and anything else that fits in the appropriate column.
Look through books to find a good, close-up map of Boston in 1775. Many books will refer to places like the Neck, Charleston, Lexington, Concord, Boston Commons, Faneuil Hall, Boston Harbor, and so on. Make a copy of this map for your notebook. A great source for blank printable maps is www.abcteach.com.
I love the study of the American Revolution because of the people! So many amazing people stood on principle and were made of something we would be so fortunate to emulate in ourselves and in our children! Prominent figures in the Revolutionary War (not all of them admirable) include
- Benjamin Franklin
- Sam Adams
- Dr. Joseph Warren
- James Otis
- Nathan Hale
- Abigail Adams
- Molly Pitcher
- John Hancock
- George Washington
- Betsy Ross
- General Cornwallis
- Crispus Attucks
- General Gage
- Patrick Henry
- John Adams
- Benedict Arnold
- Paul Revere
- William Dawes
- Thomas Jefferson
…and the list goes on!
The best part of any unit study is reading lots of books. Whenever you come upon a person you want to learn more about, do a biographical sketch. Place a picture of the person in the center of a paper, write his name at the top, and write facts about him all around the picture.
Obtain a copy of Picture Book of Revolutionary War Heroes by Leonard Everett Fisher. Choose 1-2 patriots to introduce to your children. Have students do copywork or dictation on several.
Make a 6-foot-long wall timeline using a strip of butcher paper, or simply tape regular 8 X 11″ paper together. Have students take turns drawing pictures to depict people or events, paste them on, and write a brief explanation and date (example: a crossed musket and tomahawk—French and Indian War). List events leading up to the Revolution, battle dates, important acts, and other notable people or events.
Read “Paul Revere’s Ride” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Draw a picture showing one lantern (the British coming by land) or two (the British advancing by sea).
Have you ever heard of Dr. Joseph Warren? Most people haven’t, but he was a key person in Boston. You can read all about him in Two If by Sea by Leonard Everett Fisher. Mr. Fisher is one of my favorite authors for this time period.
Find a copy of John Hancock’s signature—it is very distinct! Now, have your student practice writing her full name in cursive. Explain what it means to “put your John Hancock there!”
Terms to learn: loyalist, Yankee, rebel, tar and feather, tyranny
Read the Declaration of Independence (at least part of it).
Divide a sheet into two columns, labeling one side “England” and the other “Colonies.” As you read, list people or events in appropriate columns (i.e., lobsterback— England; minuteman—Colonies).
Remember, American colonists were under English rule; therefore their country was Britain. List reasons some remained loyal to England (i.e., British colonists believed the king had the right to rule the colonies). Also list reasons others fought for independence.
Read the placard that the Sons of Liberty are posting in chapter 6 of Johnny Tremain. Draw a picture of a scroll and write out this advertisement. Place in notebook.
Write a speech, as if you were the fiery Sam Adams, to present to a group of colonists.
Write a paper comparing Sam Adams to his friend John Hancock.
The men of the Revolution paid a great price for liberty. Find out the destiny of the 56 signers of the Declaration (see www.nhccs.org/Destiny.html). Would you be willing to lose your life, family, and possessions for freedom’s cause? Describe the kind of character and principles those men possessed in order to give us what we have today.
Find out about the Committee of Safety—what was it and how did it work? What is a “Friends of Freedom” Pass?
Research other countries and their oppressive governments. Compare the US to many other countries.
The following excerpt is taken from Johnny Tremain (chapter 6). What do you think it means?
After all, thought Parliament, the Americans were yokels and farmers— not political thinkers. And the East India tea, even after that tax was paid, would be better and cheaper than any the Americans ever had had. Weren’t the Americans, after all, human beings? Wouldn’t they care more for their pocketbooks than their principles?
Older students can discuss with their parents how our freedoms are being taken for granted and actually being taken away. The founding fathers did not believe in “big” government. Explain what that means. Discuss what individuals and families can do to uphold liberty.
Ben Franklin created a cartoon of a snake cut into pieces with the words “Join or Die” printed on it. Research the meaning behind the cartoon and draw your own picture. You will find information in Draw•Write•Now Book 5 and how-to instructions for making your own cartoon.
Among other things, Paul Revere was quite an artisan. Not only was he a silversmith, but he also drew the famous engraving titled The Boston Massacre. View this picture and read about its significance. See www.bostonmassacre.net/gravure.htm.
- The Story of the American Revolution Colorbook from Dover Publications
- American Kids in History: Colonial Days by David C. King
- Liberty! How the Revolutionary War Began by Lucille Recht Penner
- Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes
- My Brother Sam Is Dead by J. Collier
- Mr. Revere and I by Robert Lawson
- Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham
- Aaron and the Green Mountain Boys by Patricia Lee Gauch (easy reader)
- Yankee Doodle by Gary Chalk (American Revolution poetry for youngsters)
- The Winter at Valley Forge (Adventures in Colonial America) by James E. Knight
- If You Were There in 1776 by Barbara Brenner
- If You Lived at the Time of the American Revolution by Kay Moore and Daniel O’Leary
- Chronicles of America: American Revolution by Joy Masoff
- The American Revolution for Kids: A History with 21 Activities by Janis Herbert
- Video—Watch The Patriot with Mel Gibson. This is a good film depicting this time period (for older students only) but parents MUST view and sort out violent scenes!