Colonial Times Live Again

by Richard Rasmussen

Captain Richard Rasmussen with some of the Beacon colonial young ladies.
KLNY Colony TV Breaking News - Colonists meet Native Americans for the first time.

Lewiston, Idaho, Date - January 30, 2014 
Grades 3-5 social studies class at Beacon Christian School has been studying about colonial America times during the first part of the school year. We have had a great time trying to put ourselves in this time period. The students have learned about the contributions of the gentry, middling’ class, and the “lessor sorts” levels of society, and about the roles of merchants, laborers, apprentices, servants, and slaves during colonial times.

As I lived at Colonial Williamsburg, Va. for a week while attending the Teacher Institute in American History, I have a lot of photos, resources and materials on colonial American history.  At the beginning of each class period, I have tried to show them a few of my photos of colonial America and one or two replicas of items commonly used during that time in history.  In December, our class participated in a live electronic field trip created by Colonial Williamsburg Foundation titled “Women of the Revolution.” During this live online video streaming program, participating students throughout the United States were able to listen to a live interview with a historian from an Eastern university and historical characters Martha Washington and Mary Perth. During the live broadcast, students could call in to ask Martha, Mary, or the historian questions about the Revolutionary time period.

As part of this programming, the class also watched short video segments featuring six women from the American Revolution. Students were able to recognize the contributions of women such as Martha Washington, Deborah Sampson (a female soldier disguised as a man), and Esther Reed (who gathered prominent ladies to raise money for the Continental army) to the American cause. They also learned why some women such as Baroness Riedesal and Mary Perth (a slave) supported the British war effort, and learned the stories of Emily Geiger and Molly Pitcher and their roles in the American Revolution. 

During the week of the broadcast, our students were able to email Martha Washington questions they had about her or life during the colonial or Revolutionary time period.  The boys and girls were very excited to learn the next day that they had received returned letters from Martha Washington while living at colonial Williamsburg. Martha did a fabulous job in responding to the student’s questions! Here are a couple of the correspondences:

Dear Martha,
My name is Claire, and I was wondering, since you’re a famous historical figure, what was your most embarrassing moment in your entire life?  It can be when you were young, or during your adult life.
Thanks for answering.
Claire

Dear Claire,
I must say, young lady, that it is rather impolite to ask a woman embarrassing questions!  However, I will relate a situation that was uncomfortable.  When I was being courted by Daniel Parke Custis, the man who became my first husband, his father did not approve of me. He felt I was beneath his family’s social level.  We married anyway.  After Daniel died, I eventually married Mr. Washington.
Your Most Obedient Servant,
Martha Washington

Dear Martha,
Our class will be eating a colonial-style dinner tomorrow at school, which will include cream of peanut soup, from a recipe from the King Arm’s Tavern in Williamsburg. Have you eaten at the King Arm’s Tavern before, and have you tasted their peanut soup?
Thank you for answering.
Grades 3-5 social studies class

My dear social studies class,
Mr. Washington and I traveled to Williamsburg on many occasions and we often dined at the King’s Arm tavern.  Mrs. Jane Vobe’s King's Arms tavern was situated on Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg, our capital city. King’s Arms tavern was one of several taverns in the area located close to the Capitol Building where George often met with other Virginians to discuss pressing matters concerning our colony’s relations with England.

I have eaten at the King’s Arms Tavern on many occasions.  And while I have not had peanut soup on every such occasion (there are many other fine soups to enjoy), I have had peanut soup on several occasions.  I find it to be a most agreeable dish, and I hope you will find it so also.  It was expected that if one dined at the King’s Arms tavern that they would partake of the cream of peanut soup.  One of George’s favorite offerings was oyster ice cream.  We enjoyed dining there very much.

With my ardent hope that your colonial style dinner is a great success,
I am Your Most Obedient Servant,
Martha Washington

I also hosted a colonial-style dinner for the grades 3-5 students in December using authentic recipes from Colonial Williamsburg, prepared by excellent local chefs.  The menu featured Captain Rasmussen’s Corn Chowder, King Arm’s Tavern Cream of Peanut Soup, Sippits (colonial soup-servers made from toasted bread strips to dip into the soups instead of using a spoon), and Baked Apple Crisp with Dried Fruits for dessert. The students were encouraged to dress for this meal in colonial style clothing.

Another activity this group of students did was to make a YouTube video about colonial times.  We set up the front of the classroom as a low budget television studio newsroom and called our news station “KLNY Colony TV.”  News reporters in the studio and in the field provided breaking news of North America meeting Native Americans for the first time. News clips included James Oglethorpe, founder of the British colony of Georgia in 1732; a Huron Indian meeting Henry Hudson, who laid the foundation for the Dutch to start the colony of New Netherland, with its capital of New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island beginning in 1625; a Wampanoag native showing a Pilgrim woman from the British Plymouth Colony how to plant corn in 1621; and a girl from the French colony of New France, founded by Samuel de Champlain in 1608.  The YouTube video is viewable at http://youtu.be/JMeN15qe4V0.

In addition to learning about colonial history, the students gained valuable experience about the need to practice and be well-prepared before attempting to film a video, although in true “breaking news” format, you may have to use what you have. They enjoyed watching their YouTube video online, and critiqued how they could improve their performance the next time they make a video.

All of these activities and projects were shared with parents, relatives, church members, and friends of our school through our school’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/beacon.christian, email notices, and articles published in the school newspaper.