Lesson 1: Prologue: A Revolutionary People
After completing this lesson, students will be able to:
- Describe the American people’s legacy of confrontation with the British
- Compare and contrast the political views of Whigs and Loyalists
- Explain the significance of the Boston Tea Party
- Explain the significance of the Massachusetts Government Act
- Describe what happened with the Liberty Pole and its significance
- Explain the significance of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress
- Interpreting visual information
- Observing and describing
- Thinking critically
- Expressing opinions
- Analyzing visually
- Understanding historical perspective
- Gathering and using information
- Interpreting information
In this lesson, students learn that like the other states, Massachusetts had participated in a radicalizing event: the American Revolution. In the years leading up to war and then independence, communities throughout Massachusetts experienced turmoil and often violence as resistance to British government and authority intensified.
|Moses Harvey, © 2008 Bryant White
||Liberty Pole, Courtesy of the Library
Company of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA
||Seth Catlin, © 2008 Bryant White
In western Massachusetts as elsewhere, families and communities
fractured under rising political pressure and conflict as the
British government tightened up oversight and administration
of its colonies following the successful conclusion of the French
and Indian War. Whigs and Loyalists sparred with each other;
Liberty men celebrated the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor; conservatives
condemned the destruction of property and mourned the breakdown
of law and order. The British Parliament passed The Massachusetts
Government Act, and widespread, organized resistance erupted
across Massachusetts. Debates over what seemed to be irreconcilable
differences escalated, and militias began drilling on town training
fields, prepared to fight for the rights and liberties of the
people that more and more Americans believed would need to be
defended by force.
Preparing to Teach
- Familiarize yourself with the Prologue: A Revolutionary People
historic scene, linked to from the Historic Scene menu.
- Familiarize yourself with the Massachusetts Government Act in the
- Familiarize yourself with the four essays for War’s End and
the six Everyday Life essays in the Themes
and Essays section.
- Familiarize yourself with the Library of Congress’ Using
- Although not explicitly referred to in the lesson, you can
incorporate selections from the Timeline
and Music section into the lesson.
Teaching the Lesson
- Class Assignment: Prior
to the class period spent on this lesson, make the following
website preparation assignment:
Class Activity: History Through the Eyes
of Those Who Lived It: History comes alive when you experience
it through the lives of the people who lived it. Studying the lives
of Seth Catlin, Dr. Elihu Ashley, and Moses Harvey provides a glimpse
into this period of American History from both the Loyalist and Whig
persuasions. Excerpts from Ashley’s journal further provide a
commentary on the period and a sense of the tension and violence that
characterized it. For example, excerpts can be found by searching the
Artifacts and Documents section using an Item Type of “Manuscripts”
and a keyword of “Ashley.”
- Go to the Prologue: A Revolutionary People historic scene
from the Historic Scene menu. Read it through,
following the links and reading what displays.
- Read the four essays for War’s End and the six Everyday Life
essays in the Themes and Essays
- Assign each of the following characters to a student
(or a small group of students) so the student(s) can assume
that historic persona in class: Elihu Ashley, Moses Harvey,
and Seth Catlin. The character narratives are found in
the People menu.
Class Activity: What’s in a Picture?:
Project the image of the Liberty Pole onto a screen. The image can be
found by searching the Artifacts
and Documents section using an Item Type of “All Types ”
and keywords of “liberty pole.” Zoom in on the picture and
ask students about various aspects of the drawing: the caption on the
flag at the top of the pole (I am encompased with a ton and half
of Iron. Therefore can't relieve thee); the text coming out of
the mouth of the man in the window in the lower left corner (“a
fine prospect of liberty”); the text coming out of the mouth
of the person in the window on the right (Is there no other road
to thee Sweet Liberty), and the man on the ground to the right
of the pole (“all is well”). Discuss the meaning
of the sentiments and who might be expressing them. Frame the discussion
in light of the Liberty Pole story in the character narratives of Seth
Catlin and Elihu Ashley.
Class Discussion Questions:
- Gather the Moses Harvey personas on one side of the room and
the Seth Catlin and Elihu Ashley personas on the other. On
a white or black board, write each persona’s name at the
top with a vertical line separating them. Ask students to
list the feelings, concerns, issues, and thoughts of each
historic character. Engage the class in a discussion of similarities
- What sorts of resistance to government occurred in Massachusetts
in the 1770s? Compare this activity to the actions of the Massachusetts
Regulators in 1786-87. In what ways are they similar? In what ways
do they differ?
- What were the circumstances of the Boston Tea Party? What
was its significance?
- What were the provisions of the Massachusetts’ Government
Act? (One of a series of so-call Intolerable, or Coercive Acts passed
by the British Parliament in 1774, it gave control of the judicial
courts to the royal governor and severely limited the actions and
jurisdiction of town meetings throughout the colony.)
- What was the significance of the Liberty Pole? Who erected it? Who
cut it down and why?
- Who was closing courts and why? (Moses Harvey and other “Liberty
Men) What action did the closing of courts in 1774 portend? (Closing
of courts in 1786 in Massachusetts)
- What was the Massachusetts Provisional Congress? (a shadow
government opposed to the “intolerable grievances and
oppression to which the people are subjected…”)
Books and Articles
- Gross, Robert, ed. In Debt to Shays: The Bicentennial of an Agrarian Rebellion, volume 65. Boston, MA: The Colonial Society of Massachusetts, 1993.
- Richards, Leonard. Shays’s Rebellion: The American Revolution’s Final Battle. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
- Starkey, Marion. A Little Rebellion. New York: Knopf, 1955.
- Satzmary, David. Shays’ Rebellion: The Making of an Agrarian Insurrection. Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 1980.
- The History Channel Series: 10 Days That Changed America: Shays’ Rebellion: America’s First Civil War; 60 minutes
- Calliope: A little Rebellion Now and Then: Prologue to the Constitution; 30 minutes
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