Colonial Geography: To and From Canada

Grades: 4-6

Subjects: Social Studies, English Language Arts

Concepts: Influence of geography on life and travel in history and today, use and interpretation of an 18th century journal

Skills: Identifying geographic features and parts of the map, journal reading, vocabulary

Materials: Various lesson handouts, classroom set of Atlases

Time: 2-3 class periods

Focus Questions

  • How did colonial landscape and geography affect colonists?
  • How does geography affect modern travel?
  • What was it like to travel around colonial New England?
  • What can individual lives and experiences teach us about the past?
  • How did colonists interact with Native Americans?

Instructional Objectives

Students will be able to:

  • Identify the major geographic features of colonial New England including parts of New York and Canada.
  • Describe the essential parts of a map including the legend, symbols, compass rose, ruler.
  • Interpret a 1749 journal in order to plot Stevens’ travels on a map and answer a range of comprehension questions.
  • Describe the connection between geography and life and travel during the colonial period.
  • Explain the role of Native Americans in assisting the transportation of colonists.

Rationale and Background
Connection to the NH Framework Proficiencies

Introductory Activity

  1. Begin the lesson by asking students to brainstorm and describe various forms of travel. Pose an open ended question that will stimulate all sorts of responses from all students. For example, ask “How do people travel from one place to another today and in the past?” Students’ list may include: horseback; kayak; canoe; rowboat; sail boat; motorboat; steamship; submarine; jetski; skimobile; automobile/van/truck; subway; taxi; bus; bicycle; skis; motorcycle; trolley; train; wheelchair; elevator/escalator; hot air balloon; airplane; helicopter; rocket; lunar buggy; carriage; rickshaw; donkey; camel; dogsled; scooter; skateboard; moped; and on the imaginative side: broomstick, wormhole, dreams, and virtual travel. Finally, do not let students forget their “feet” as the oldest form of transportation.
  2. Next, provide students with a variety of old magazines. Have students cut out pictures from the magazines showing different forms of transportation. Have students work in groups to combine their pictures to make a poster showing transportation used today and in the past. The teacher would use the posters as visual cues for the students.
  3. Transition the class to the topic at hand by engaging them in a discussion about travel during the colonial period. Ask students to explain how and why travel was different in the 18th century. Build off prior knowledge students may have. For example, they may have learned how Native Peoples used canoes through the river system. Expand on their understanding by describing how rivers and streams were considered the “highways” of the colonial period which allowed for the movement of people and things as well as ideas throughout the region. Engage students in using their logic skills to understand why people settled along water routes and major foot trails. Discuss how important these routes were in connecting villages and establishing trade and communication routes.
  4. Explain that the theme of transportation is essential in understanding historical time periods. Tell students that this theme will remain important as they continue to study New Hampshire history, i.e. as they learn about the famous Concord Coach that helped open up the American west in the 1800s. Make the connection for students that geography and history are inextricably linked and that studying them in conjunction to each other bring fuller understanding to the time period.

Instructional Resources or Materials

Instructional Procedure

  1. Tell students that in this lesson they will be reading and interpreting a primary source document that will help them understand travel and geography during the colonial period. Review what a primary source document is. Discuss the role that primary source documents play in helping students of history understand the past. In this lesson, students will use a document located in the NH Historical Society Archives at the Tuck Library (Collections of the New Hampshire Historical Society Volume V, Concord: 1837, pages 199-205). This resource contains the account by Phineas Stevens of his attempt to release captives from Canada in 1749. Describe his life to students, as well as the captivity phenomenon at this time (See Rationale and Background).
  2. Distribute copies of the map handout New England Region, 1700s. Discuss the key features of a map including the compass, legend, mileage, boundaries. Emphasize the need for accuracy.
  3. Distribute the handout: Phineas Stevens “To and From Canada, 1749”. Ask students to complete the instructions. The first step is to have students label their maps using the list from the worksheet. Make sure students accurately label their maps
  4. The second step is for students to read Stevens’ journal from 1749 and answer questions.

Concluding Discussion questions

Go over the map and journal questions. By the end of the discussion, students should fully understand how much journals reveal to historians. End by drawing a comparison between colonial travel and how students would get to Canada today. A closing question for students to debate is: have modern forms of travel made geography less of a factor in influencing human activity?


Completed Map with all of the features listed correctly.

Completed worksheet on the comprehension questions about the journal.

Curriculum Modifications/Extension