Everyday Life in the Early Republic

By Dennis Dougherty, Juliette Howard, & Taryn League

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Jones, Edward P. The Known World New York . Harper Audio. 2003.

Teacher/Student Resource 8+
A great tool for working on listening skills. I was only able to hear a bit of this, but was impressed with the way the stories were told and the drama put into them. Perhaps a quote from the book jacket would be more appropriate:

“Henry Townsend, a black farmer, boot maker, and former slave, has a fondness for Paradise Lost and an unusual mentor – Cilliam Robbins, perhaps the most powerful man in antebellum Virginia ‘s Manchester County . Under Robbins’s tutelage, Henry becomes proprietor of his own plantation – as well as of his own slaves. Chen he dies, his widow, Caldonia, succumbs to profound grief, and things begin to fall apart at their plantation: slaves take to escaping under the cover of night, and families who had once found love beneath the weight of slavery begin to betray one another. Beyond the Townsend estate, the known world also unravels: low-paid white patrollers stand watch as slave “speculators” sell free black people into slavery, and rumors of slave rebellions set white families against slaves who have served them for years.”

A great way to get students to create images in their minds of the characters and what is happening at the time. I would have the students complete a sketch of certain characters based on the audio. I would have them keep it to themselves and then at the end, put all of them on display for the rest of the class to see.


Ayers, Edwards; Mittendorf, Bradley. The Oxford Book of the American South: Testimony, Memory, and Fiction. New York . Oxford University Press Inc. 1998. (Private Collection Of Dennis Dougherty)

Teacher/Student Resource: 9+
This collection of writing depicts fiction and non-fiction of well known and never heard of authors. It is filled with gems of writing to be read by all ages and experienced by students learning about the south. The stories told and the poems constructed can be a backdrop for many discussions in the classroom. This resource has way more in it than could be exhausted in a classroom study, although it would be a great resource for individual work for specific topics.

Bruun, Erik and Jay Crosby. Our Nation’s Archives – The History of United States In Documents. New York . Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers Inc., 1999. pp. 189-190. (Private Collection of Taryn League)

Teacher/Student Resource: All levels
The book cited above has been an invaluable resource for me (T. League) as a teacher. It is clear, concise and at 886 pages, comprehensive as well. On pages 189 & 190, one can find recipes from Mrs. Amelia Simmons. Mrs. Simmons called her book American Cookery and the book was self-published by Mrs. Simmons in 1796. It was the first cookbook to include ingredients which were native to America . The authors of Our Nations Archives state, “American Cookery helped define the new country as being distinct from Europe – even in the kitchen, challenging the imported collections of recipes that had previously prevailed in American kitchens.” Using these recipes with students would be entertaining as they read the ingredients, some of which they may not be familiar with such as whortleberries. It would be an excellent introduction to the diet of the early republic.

Cronon, William. Changes in the Land: Indians, Colonists, and the Ecology of New England New York . Hill and Wang, 20 th Anniversary Edition, 2003. (Private Collection of Juliette Howard)

Teacher Resource/Student Resource: Upper Level
This is a great book for teachers of history. It begins with a look into Thoreau’s Walden to introduce the reader, in a poetic way, to the changes that forever marked the New England landscape. Cronon provides his readers with this riddle: “If this land be not rich, then is the whole world not poor.” In other words, how could a land ( New England ) be so rich, yet the inhabitants (Amerindians) so poor? This of course is the opinion – misunderstanding – the colonists have. Examinations of farming practices, nomadic behavior, putting up fences, and the eventual destruction of the original ecology of the land, the reader comes to solve the riddle: When a people cannot learn to discern between yielding and looting, the result is not just a gradual ecological change over time, but also a destruction of the system all together. I would use parts of this book in an advanced study of ecological changes/misunderstanding of culture to upper level students. I would use the poem by Thoreau as a way to open up dialogue concerning the environment then and now.

Dershowitz, Alan. America on Trial: The Cases that Defined our History. New York New York . Warner Books Inc., 2004. (Private collection of Juliette Howard)

Teacher/Student Resource: 10+
This fabulous tool could be used for debate or dialoguing. I would use it in a high school government class to teach about American law; its foundations, and how it has (and has not) changed over the years. This book covers early history of the U. S, Jacksonian Democracy, the Prelude to the Civil Car, Civil war, all the way up to Bush vs. Gore. To name a few cases: the Salem Witchcraft Trials, The Slave Revolt, Tom Boom-Colvin Murder Mystery, The Dred Scott Case, The Savannah Case, The trial of Susan B. Anthony, The Great Labor Union Trials, The Trials of Leopold and Loeb, The Nuremburg Trial, The Trial of the Rosenbergs, The Prosecution of Martin Luther King Jr., the trial of the Chicago Seven, the Trial and Appeal of Claus Von Bulow, and The Texas, Sodomy Trial and Appeal.

Douglass, Fredrick. Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass. New York . Random House, 1845. (Private collection of Dennis Dougherty)

Student Resource: Level 10+
The autobiographical writing of Douglass is an invaluable resource in the high school classroom. Students can read a first hand account of life as a slave in America, and at the same time realize the great agency employed by Douglass to triumph over and become the spokesperson for his people still enslaved. Reading about Fredrick Douglass is a common part of texts today, but having the full account from his own perspective of slave life, the flight from slavery and life afterwards is of great value.

Duey, Kathleen. Evie Peach, St Louis , 185Z New York . Aladdin Paperbacks, 1997. ( Spokane Public Library J DUEY)

Student Resource: 6-8
One of the best ways, in my opinion, to teach history is to use Historical Fiction. This is a great little book that spins the tale of a little girl named Evie and her father, who are both freed slaves, and their journey to buy her mother’s freedom. A free black person in the state of Missouri was an uncertain one, and Evie and her family come across racial injustices typical of the time. A group of Irish boys begins to taunt Evie, and in fear, she tells no one. Eventually, the taunts turn to accusations as the boys accuse Evie and her family of being runaway slaves. Evie manages to get the papers that prove her family is innocent. This book has been criticized in the School Library Journal because “the most climatic part of the book (the bringing forth of the documents) is described only in a closing diary entry at the very end.” I, however, think it would be a great way to introduce the concept of freed slaves vs. runaway slaves, as well as the concept that freedom does not necessarily mean acceptance.

Earle, Carville. Geographical Inquiry and American Historical Problems. Stanford , California . Stanford University Press, 1992.(Eastern University JFK LibraryE179.5 E37

Teacher Resource:
This book is defiantly a resource for the classroom. It does give a different perspective on the early life of Americans and what effected or caused change. The problems coming from geography are often overlooked yet having a comprehensive understanding of this era and the serious problems that occur having the geographical perspective only adds to panoramic view of the educator. This is not a read for high school students.

Fleischner, Jennifer. The Dred Scott Case: Testing the Right to Live Free Brookfield Connecticut . Millbrook Press, 1997. ( Spokane Public Library J342.7308)

Student Resource: 5-8
This is a great case for student to study. I was quite happy to come upon this, as I teach about Dred Scott each year. This case took 11 years to conclude. The book follows that timeline and deals with the suit in which Dred Scott sues for his and his families’ freedom. This deals directly with Northwest Ordinance and the Fugitive Slave law. If a slave is taken to live in a free territory, should they not then, be free? The question also arises contemplating re We r2 slaves were citizens who had the right to go to court. A great deal of American history must be explained in order to understand this case, and the systematic progress is carefully reported. Each nuance of the suit and its background are analyzed, making the information student­-friendly. A great student resource.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., Robbins, Hollis, eds. In Search of Hannah Crafts: Critical Essays On the Bondwoman’s Narrative. New York . Basic Civitas Books, 2004. (Spokane Public Library 813.3 CRAFTS)

Teacher Resource:
A couple of years ago, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., discovered a manuscript. The Bondwoman’s Narrative, by Hannah Crafts. She was a fugitive who recently escaped from North Carolina who wrote about her escape from her plantation in search of freedom in the North. It turned out to be the first novel by a female African-American slave ever found, and possibly the first novel written by a black woman anywhere. In 2002, almost 150 years after it was written, Hannah Craft’s The Bondwoman’s Narrative, was published for the first time. I would read this for personal enjoyment, but might use it is a biographical resource in the classroom. 

Horton, James 0 Lois E. Black Bostonians: Family life and Community Struggle in the Antebellum North. New York . Holmes and Meier Publishers, 1999.

Teacher Resource:
This study of an antebellum northern black community is unique and historically significant. Li ke Horton’s study of this culture dates from the eighteenth century up to the civil war giving a detailed look at a long history. The everyday life of the people in this community included activism and abolition of slavery. This unique study would be more useful for a teacher and would be a book I would be interested in reading for background information to include in classroom lectures.

Johnson, Walter. Soul by Soul: Life inside the Antebellum Slave Market. Cambridge Massachusetts . Harvard University Press, 1999. ( Spokane Public Library 976.335 Johnson)

Teacher/Student Resource: 10+
This study focuses not on the cotton plantations or broad historical patters, but instead on the flesh-and blood daily history of the slave market. Johnson, who is a history professor at NYU, takes the reader into the Dixie slave pens and traders coffles. I was not able to read this in its entirety, but here is a great review by Publisher’s Weekly:

His focus is New Orleans , North America ‘s largest slave market, hub of a trade that decimated African-American slave communities by tearing families part by destroying marriages and separating children from parents. Using former slave survivors’ narratives, letters written by slaveholders, docket records of cases of disputed slave sales and Southern medical and agricultural journals, Johnson interweaves the voices of traders, buyers, auctioneers and the slaves themselves. He shows that, for white Southern slaveholders, buying slaves buoyed a fantasy of manly bourgeois self-control, speculative perceptive and economic independence. Slaves, meanwhile, assessed the character of particular buyers and sometimes, at enormous risk, manipulated a sale to their own advantage.

I would use the slave narratives in my classroom as well as the letters to facilitate a class discussion on the slave market and how horrific it truly was. I would also have my students search for evidence of how a people who suffered so much possessed a spirit that carried them through.

Martineau, Harriet. Daniel Feller. Armonk , New York . M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 2000. Retrospect of Western Travel – a New Edition with an Introduction by Daniel Feller. Armonk , New York . M.E. Sharp, Inc., 2000. (Private collection of Taryn League)

Student Resource: 10+
Unfortunately, this book has all but languished on my shelf since studying at oxford two years ago. However, while researching I realized that this would be a great source and I picked it up once again. Maritneau’s chapters are relatively short and it would be easy to have students read a selection. Martineau, an Englishwoman, traveled to America in the 1830s. Unlike Alexis De Tocqueville, who focused upon the effect of democracy in the United States , Martineau examines the culture. Chat is especially intriguing about Martineau is that she writes from the view of a woman, taking note of such things like wedding traditions, what the beds looked like in the inns she stayed, etc. – items a man would probably not find as noteworthy. The chapter selections I would have students read would be chapter 2 – “First Impressions,” chapter 4 – “Weddings,” and chapter 12 – “Country Life in the South.” These chapters would lend themselves to really showing a firsthand account of what life was like in the early republic. Martineau evokes the sense that you too, as the reader, saw the very same events she writes about. (Her chapter on prisons would also be great to expose students to when discussing law, crime, the Bill of Rights, etc.) 

Partidge, Bellamy; Bettmann, Otto. As We t Were: Family Life In America New York McGraw-Hill Book Company, INC. 1946. (Eastern Washington UniversityJFK Library E161 P3)

Student Resource: Level 9+
This pictorial study of the people of the United States as they were would be a great resource for student presentations, costumes, dress, and any other general use for illustrations of people and places of the time. Students are able to do so much with photographs if given the ability to be creative in their assignments. The resource would be used for this very narrow purpose.

Schwartz, Marie Jenkins. Born in Bondage: Growing up Enslaved in the Antebellum South. Cambridge , Massachusetts . Harvard University Press, 2000. ( SpokanePublic Library 306.302)

Teacher Resource:
This book looks into the everyday life of slaves, their masters, and the struggle each had in controlling the slave children. The author reconstructs the slave experience from birth, sexual maturity, and finally, entering into work. She examines also how the masters had the ultimate power, and regularly threatened to break apart families, and the slave parents, in an effort to protect the young children, would teach them how to “please” their masters, and find identity in the slave community that surrounded them. I would use this book as a part of any research I would be doing in connection with slave narratives, and the “parenting” issues between the “masters and the mothers”.

Shalhope, Robert E. A Tale of New England : The Diaries of Hiram Harwood , Vermont Farmer, 1810-1847 Baltimore , MD. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.(Eastern Washington University ; JFK Library F.59.B4 S535 2003)

Teacher Resource: Levels 9+
Manhood, patriarchy, and “market revolution” – all themes this book explores while chronicling the life of Hiram Harwood. Harwood was a New England farmer born in 1788 and was a man conflicted with the changing social roles of the young American republic. His family was deeply devoted to the patrilineal process of passing on the farm to the sons. Harwood struggles with this “given” and expected role in life. He eventually marries and takes over the family farm but continues to grapple with the conflicting political views of the time, those of Jefferson and later Jackson. This book would be excellent insight into the cultural and social structure of the early republic and would also give a window into farming life of the late 18 th and early,j.8 a’ centuries. A teacher would be able to weave the story of a lesser known person into the policies and politics of the more well-known Presidents and politicians of the time. It would be a fascinating study of how decisions made effect others. In addition, it is important to discuss the life of a man as well as a woman (see Zinn resource) in order to balance the picture for students. Harwood eventually lands in the Vermont Asylum for the Insane and commits suicide after coping with depression, seizures and loss of memory. This story has all the “soap opera” intrigue desired to hook students into the story of history. (Author’s note: Anne Lombard reviewed this book in the Journal of the Early Republic in the Spring of 2004 – Vol. 24, Iss. 1; pg. 139.)

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and other Writings. New York . Barnes and Noble, 1993. ( Spokane Public Library 818.3 THOREAU)

Teacher/Student Resource: 10+
As a lover of literature, this is one of my favorite works. Walden; or Life in the Woods is a poetic expression of his views on the state of the land, civil disobedience, anti-slavery movements, and the resistance of government. A great way to incorporate this into lessons would be the idea that people of the time did not have to shout to be heard; they could simply write. Moreover, words alone can make a person reflect, wonder, and possibly change.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States ; 1492-Present. New York . Perrenial – An Imprint of HaperCollins Publishers Inc., 1980. pp. 103-124. (Private Collection of Taryn League)

Teacher Resource: Level 9+
Zinn, a controversial historian, has written a comprehensive guide to American history as written through the perspective of the people who have traditionally not had a voice in other works, namely textbooks. He tells the story of the Amer-Indians, women, African Americans, etc. through their own point of view. Of interest for the early republic is chapter six, titled “The Intimately Oppressed.” In this piece, Zinn describes the plight of women and how they lived during this time period. Many were working-class women who were at times written about later but “prettified” according to Zinn. Pages 110-112 would be an excellent selection to give to students. This particular section discusses how disenfranchised women were during this time period. Only 40% of women were literate in the mid-1700s so “working-class women had little means of communicating, and no means of recording whatever sentiments of rebelliousness they may have felt at their subordination.” A discussion of everyday life is not complete without a discussion of male and female roles. A challenge for the history teacher is to make sure that students also understand that simply reading the letters of Abigail Adams gives voice to all women of the period, just as Laura Bush certainly could not speak for every woman in the United States in 2004.

Journal Articles

Gamber, Wendy. 2002. “Tarnished Labor: the Home, the Market and the Boardinghouses in Antebellum America .” The Journal of the early Republic v.22 no2 p177-204. (Eastern Washington University JFK Library ISSN: 02751275)

Teacher Resource l2+
Boardinghouses became a common form of labor for women during the early American era. Gamber details the life experiences of those boarders in the Northeast cities of New York , Boston , and Philadelphia . This resource would give the teacher knowledge on another way women were active in society and the work place and may be used for an individual student working on a specific topic of the role of women or commerce in the era. This article would further aid the classroom teacher and therefore, the student in the understanding of the development and maintenance of home in early America .

Isenberg, Nancy. 1998. “Pillars in the same temple and priests of the same worship: women’s rights and the politics of church in antebellum America .” The Journal of American History 85(1) p.98-128. (Eastern Washington University JFK Library ISSN: 0021-8723)

Teacher Resource: 12+
Isenberg challenges that the influence religion had on politics and social structure was enormous and that it specifically affected women. Sheer specific religious reason for why women were not allowed public roles and these were used by the civic leaders of the day. The living out of church and state as one and the challenge for its separation is her key. Again this could be used by a teacher to demonstrate, anecdotally, the impact on the culture of the time and also draw discussion comparisons to today’s society. She specifically deals with an 1873 U.S. Supreme court case that drew on church precedent and divine authority to refuse women public roles in law. Students wouldn’t use this text as a whole but the concepts presented by the teacher could bring about great discussion.

Mullins, Jeffrey A. 2003. “Honorable violence: youth culture, masculinity, and contested authority in liberal education in the early republic.” The Journal of the Early Republic. 17(3):161. (Eastern Washington University ; JFK Library E164.J68 Internet)

Teacher Resource: Level 12+
“Higher education in America arose principally out of the need to educate youth for the ministry, but by the end of the eighteenth century both the teaching emphasis of the colleges and the professional choices of their graduates had shifted away from a theological emphasis,” states Mullins in this article. This piece records the student riots of the early republic as students started to demand the process of self-government. The tension between the students and the faculty/trustees of the colleges that were involved mounted as the students wanted to incorporate the growing trend of self-independence. “The early republic witnessed a mounting belief not only that self-possession-independent moral agency-characterizes every citizen, but also in the necessity of starting the process of attaining this status at a young age. Such beliefs influenced family interactions, social interactions, and gave rise to widespread efforts to reform formal education.” This would be an excellent resource to include in a lecture which illustrates the attempt to incorporate democratic values into everyday life. 

Reinhardt , Mark. 2002 “Who Speaks for Margaret Garner? Slavery, Silence and the Politics of Ventriloquism” Critical Inquiry 29 (1) p. 81-119. (Eastern Washington University JFK Library ISSN: 0093-1896)

Teacher Resource: 12+
An interesting challenge is made by Reinhardt that the large quantity of writings we have from slaves, such as Margaret Gardner, have to be read with the ideal of the time in the south that the slave could only be know through the master. His argument is the value of the source and this journal article could be used to investigate this concept. Moreover, to ask the question to whom do we allow our voice? This would be an especially useful discussion following the reading of, The narrative of Fredrick Douglas.

Steffen, Charles G. 2003. “Newspapers for free: the economies of newspaper circulation in the early republic.” The Journal of the Early Republic. 23(3): 381. (Eastern Washington University ; JFK Library E164.J68 Internet)

Teacher Resource: Level 12+
This would be great background for a teacher in order to help introduce the role that newspapers played in everyday life during the early republic. Students often forget that information was much slower in distribution than today’s instant access. Newspapers were revolutionary in this aspect for early Americans as they were the fastest way to obtain ~’ information, they were free and the press was protected by the Amendment in the Bill of Rights. According to Steffen, “By the 1820s roughly six hundred newspapers, including sixty big-city dailies, were being pulled off the nation’s presses, a quantitative accomplishment in which editors took understandable pride.” This is astonishing and certainly contributed to the everyday routine of an early American. Steffen adds that “Americans of the early national period came to believe that access to the news, and therefore to newspapers, was their birthright.” The idea of access to the press as a “birthright” is indeed a topic to be further explored. Linking this with today’s constant access and onslaught of news would be a great investigation for students as they could compare the newspapers then and now and also explore the role of today’s internet and cable news networks.

Speakers/People of Note

Conlin, Michael F., PhD. Associate Professor, Eastern Washington University . 2001­present.

Dr. Conlin, a well-prepared professor of United States History at Eastern, would be an excellent guest speaker for any high school classroom. Chile his specific areas of expertise (Joseph Henry’s Smithsonian and Foucault’s Pendulum) may be too complex for a sixteen-year .old, his authority on the early republic would lend considerable value to any discussion on the topic. In addition, Dr. Conlin’s web-based homework for his History 110 class (Homework #2 in particular) would be an excellent resource for teachers who wish to challenge talented students. Available at http://www.ewu.edu/csbs/depts/HIST/Conlin/home.html


PBS Video©. 1997. A Midwives Tale. VHS. Available for purchase through Amazon.com or PBS.org.

This video documents the life of Martha Ballard, a midwife in the late 1700s through 1812. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote a novel based on Martha’s diaries and the movie is based on the novel. PBS has excellent teacher resources to help teach with the video- they may be accessed at http://videoindex.pbs.org/main/index.jsp/ and clicking on “A Midwife’s Tale. PBS has also correlated national social studies standards to the themes present in the video. This video would be best viewed after students have accessed Martha Ballard’s diary available on the internet at www.dohistory.org

Warner Home Video. Gone with the Wind. Selznick International in assoc. with Metro­ Goldwyn-Mayer. Produced by David 0. Selznick; screenplay by Sidney Howard; directed by Victor Fleming. Burbank , California . 1939. (Juliette Howard’s personal collection).

Student Resource: Level 9+
The epic tale of a woman’s life during one of the most tumultuous periods in America ‘s history. From her young, innocent days on a feudalistic plantation to the war-torn streets of Atlanta ; from her first love whom she has always desired to three husbands; from the utmost luxury to absolute starvation and poverty; from her innocence to her understanding and comprehension of life. This is one of the best films to show to today’s video-minded students so they can view for themselves the “reality” of the Civil War (I would show this along with Cold Mountain, with Nicole Kidman). I would ask the students to ponder what it must have been like to live in the South during the War and how (in their opinion) the women gathered the strength to wait years without hearing a word from their loved ones. I would incorporate writing lessons into this and have the students, after thorough research, compile diary of a Civil war hero


Do History. “The Diaries of Martha Ballard.” Address: http://www.dohistorv.or2/diary (Accessed July 11, 2004).

Student Resources: Level 9+
Martha Ballard was a midwife for a Maine community from 1785 to 1812. She helped deliver 800 babies. She kept a diary which documents her life and profession. The website states that, “Through her diary, we can also glimpse the lives of the town’s other inhabitants–the ordinary people who are normally invisible to us when we look back into the past. Her diary enriches, deepens, and complicates our understanding of everyday life in early America .” This website would be an excellent tech-based lesson plan. Students can navigate at their leisure, looking at the comprehensive diary, reading a timeline of her life, look at maps of her world and take a walking tour of Hallowell, Maine where many building still remain today that were present during her life. After completing this task students could then watch the video which PBS made about her life.

Teacher Serve from the National Humanities Center “Religion, Women, and the Family in Early America ” Address:http://www.nhc.rtp.nc.us/tserve/eighteen/ekevinfo/erelwom.htm

Teacher/Student Resource: Levels 7-12
This National Humanities website is extremely user friendly for both teacher and student. This site would be a good starting point for and activity as an introduction to the topic. The students would be able find a wide range of topics, photos, maps, illustrations and interactive materials to begin formulating a topic and at the same time report back on articles like the one listed above. This is a very practical site for beginning research and topic selection.

National Gallery of Art. 2004. “Tour: American Portraits of the Late 1700s and Early 1800s.” Address: http://www.nga.gov/collection/gallery/gg62/gg62-mainl.html (Accessed July 2, 2004).

Student Resource: Levels 7-12
This website provides several examples of American portraits from the time of the early republic. Portraits provide excellent details for the fashion and style of the time period. This site would be an excellent way to introduce students to the style of the day for both men and women. Chat is also exciting about using this site is to then ask the question, “Cho sat for a portrait during this time period?” Most certainly it was the wealthier of society which would be an excellent break-away for students to research what the poorer people were wearing during this time period. Of further interest would be what types of material were used during this time for clothing.

Archiving Early America . (Date unknown). “Explore the World of Early America .” Address: http://www.earlvamerica.com/earlvamerica/index.html (Accessed July 2, 2004).

Student Resource: Levels 9-12
This site is specifically for students studying American History. Included in this site is a “how to” page which helps students decipher meaning from reading 200 year old documents. Emphasis is placed on the use of “f’ instead of “s” when beginning a word, i.e. “fame” instead of”same.” The explanations are clear and concise which would aid any student who is studying older documents. The site includes some excellent documents which are the originals. The Massachusetts Sentinel dated, April 24, 1790, is noteworthy as students would be able to read the page in its entirety and be able to learn quite a bit about every day life including the sale of state lottery tickets and the sale of overseas passage on ships. Students would be able to use there new knowledge on deciphering the writing of the time.