Making a Patriot Inquiry

Lesson Plan: Are Independence, Freedom, and Liberty the same thing?
Inquiry Description:

This inquiry examines the choices that individuals make, and the reasons behind those choices. Designed to encourage students to interact with primary and secondary sources to determine how and why historical people made the choice to either seek independence or to remain loyal to the King. The inquiry is adaptable for upper elementary, middle, or high school students. The inquiry includes essays, biographies, video, and primary sources to help create a fuller historical context.

"American Soldiers at the Seige of Yorktown" by Jean Baptiste de Verger, 1781.

“American Soldiers at the Seige of Yorktown” by Jean Baptiste de Verger, 1781.


In addressing the compelling question, students work through a series of supporting questions and performance tasks while analyzing primary and secondary sources. Students will ultimately construct an argument supported by evidence that acknowledges competing views.

Content Standards:







This inquiry also meets national standards of learning for social studies

Historical Thinking Skills:

Demonstrating Comprehension; Comparing and Contrasting; Determining Cause and Effect; Using Information Sources; Organizing Information; Questioning and Critical Thinking Skills

Compelling Question:
Are Independence, Freedom, and Liberty the same thing?



Staging the Compelling Question

Discuss the similarities and differences between the terms independence, slavery, freedom, and liberty after watching a scene from the play Slave Spy.

Supporting Question 1: 
What was everyday life like in colonial Virginia?

Formative Performance Task –Graphic Organizer: Life in Colonial Virginia

First in groups, then later as a full class, complete a graphic organizer that provides information about the roles played by men, women, children, and the enslaved in Colonial Virginia.

Step 1

Ask the students what jobs they have at home. Discuss their jobs and those of their parents and other family members. Ask the students how these jobs might be different from those in colonial Virginia. Ask them to brainstorm how they think everyday life was different for whites and enslaved African Americans in colonial Virginia.

Step 2

Begin the lesson by telling students that most people in colonial Virginia at the time of the American Revolution lived on small farms. Divide the class into four teams. Explain to each that they will read and analyze a different Student Handout Packet (short essay, images, primary source) about the role of each of one of the following groups: men, women, children, or enslaved people in colonial Virginia. Tell them that each team will then report their findings to the class.

Step 3

Distribute a different Student Handout Packet to each team, along with a copy of the Graphic Organizer to each student. Instruct students to read their passage and look at the photographs. Suggest that students highlight keywords pertaining to the roles of their assigned groups as they read the passage. Have each team discuss among themselves the roles of their assigned group and record them in the appropriate section of the graphic organizer.

Step 4

Have each student team select a member to present finding to the rest of the class. Instruct all students to add information on the other colonial groups to their graphic organizer as their classmates report. Use the question How was everyday life different for whites and enslaved African Americans in colonial Virginia? to help frame the students’ findings.

Extension Activity

Working alone or in pairs, have students create a blog post comparing life in colonial Virginia to life in Virginia today.

Featured Sources

Source A: Runaway Slave Ad 1768

Source B: The Old Plantation, painting

Source C: Colonial Book on Animal Husbandry

Source D: The Prudent Housewife

Additional Materials

“What was daily life like?” graphic organizer

What was a woman’s role on a farm? Essay

What was the role of children on a farm? Essay

What was life like for slaves on a Virginia farm? Essay

What was a man’s role on a farm? Essay

Supporting Question 2: 
How did relations between Britain and the colonies change after the French and Indian War?

Formative Performance Task — Bulletin Board Material: The Colonial Response

Students will create a broadside representing the views of the colonists in reaction to the actions of the British following the French and Indian War.

Step 1

Have students look at original Join or Die cartoon. Ask students to make educated guesses about the image, and lead a class discussion. During the discussion share the following information:

The cartoon was created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754 and published in his newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette.

At the time, the colonists were fiercely debating whether or not to expand west of the Appalachian Mountains to fight the French and their Indian allies.

During Franklin’s era, there was a myth that a severed snake would come back to life if the pieces were put together before sunset

The cartoon depicts the early American colonies as a snake divided into eight segments.

Toward the head of the snake, “NE” represents New England, followed by “NY” (New York), “NJ” (New Jersey), “P” (Pennsylvania), “M” (Maryland), “V” (Virginia), “NC” (North Carolina) and “SC” (South Carolina). Even though there were four “New England” colonies, Franklin lumped them into one category to stress the need for colonial unity. Georgia is not represented for an unknown reason.

Step 2

Have students examine the Mitchell map. Students should compare borders of states with modern state lines. Next, have students examine the Proclamation map. What is the impact of the proclamation of 1763? What is the expected reaction? What impact might this have on the relationship between Britain and the colonies?

(Possible extension activity: the Mitchell map is available in several pieces. For kinetic learners, consider having students work in groups where each group has one piece of the map. Each group should interpret their piece, and then the class should work together to put together the map before comparing state lines and the impact of the proclamation.)

Step 3

Give students primary source analysis sheets, and the essays on colonial taxes. Divide students into small teams. After reading about the colonial taxes, have students interpret the Pennsylvania Journal and Weekly Advertiser. As a class, discuss the primary source and determine the story behind it and it’s significance. How does it relate to the supporting question?

Step 4

Project the masthead. Have students compare with the original cartoon from 20 years prior. What has changed? What do these changes tell us about the relationship between the colonists and  Britain?

Step 5

Have students read the brief essay “What is a Broadside?” Students will create a broadside representing the views of the colonists in reaction to the actions of the British following the French and Indian War.

Extension Activity — #Hashtag: Poor Richard on Twitter

Create a Twitter feed for Benjamin Franklin. Choose one of these events and imagine Franklin’s response if he had access to today’s social media. Students should be creative and remember Franklin’s sense of humor.

Featured Sources

Source A: Join or Die political cartoon

Source B: Proclamation Line of 1763 Map

Source C: Mitchell Map, 1755

Source D: The Pennsylvania journal and weekly advertiser -expiring: in hopes of a resurrection to life again

Source E: [Masthead and part of front page of The Massachusetts spy, or, Thomas’s Boston journal showing a female figure of Liberty in upper left and rattlesnake labeled “Join or Die” symbolizing the 13 colonies, challenging a griffin, across the top]

Additional Materials

What is a broadside?

What was the Stamp Act? Essay

What were the Currency Act and the Sugar Act? Essay

Why was the Tea Act of 1773 so important? Essay

Modern map of United States

Primary Source Analysis Sheet

Supporting Question 3: 
Why did some colonial Virginians seek independence?

Formative Performance Task — Classroom Jigsaw Activity: The Trouble with Tea

Students will examine the underlying reasons that drove some colonists to seek independence from the King.

Step 1

Divide students into five content groups based on the following: Boston Tea Party, Yorktown Tea Party, Tea Overboard, The Coercive Acts, and Ladies of Edenton. Give each group 10-15 minutes to examine and discuss their source. During this time, float around the classroom to monitor progress.

Step 2

Divide the class once more, this time into teams. Make sure that each team has at least one member from the earlier content groups. Students should take turns presenting their material from the content group to their team, encouraging others to ask questions and make comments for clarification. Students can use the following questions as a guide:

How are they alike and how are they different? What prompted the colonists to dump their tea?

What were the results of the Boston tea dumping and the Virginia tea dumping?

Why do you think the responses were different?

Imagine you are a merchant during the Revolution; what are some incentives to obey the non-importation agreement? What are some incentives to disobey the agreement?

How do the actions of the Ladies of Edenton tie into this? What is the response to these women?

 Step 3

Ask a representative from each team to share with the class their team’s main takeaway from the sources, attempting to answer the question “Why did some colonial Virginians seek independence?”

Extension Activity — Class Discussion: Liberty or Death

Step 1

Project or hand out the following. You can allow a student to do a dramatic reading of the speech excerpt, or use the linked video (

“Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace — but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

~Patrick Henry, March 23, 1775

Step 2

Lead the class in a discussion surrounding this famous quote. Prompts:

Would you characterize Patrick Henry as a Loyalist or a Patriot? Why?

To whom is Henry referring when he says, “Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery?”

What is the purpose of Patrick Henry’s speech?

Based on the words in this speech, how would you describe Patrick Henry?

Featured Sources

Source A: A Society of Patriotic Ladies political cartoon

Source B: Boston Tea Party lithograph

Source C: “Yorktown Tea Party” from the Virginia Gazette

Source D: Quote from Patrick Henry

Additional Materials

Transcription: “Yorktown Tea Party”

What were the Intolerable Acts? Essay

Trouble with Tea Graphic Organizer

Patrick Henry video

Supporting Question 4: 
Why did some colonial Virginians continue to support the King?

Formative Performance Task — Graphic Organizer: Great Expectations?

As a class, students will examine a political cartoon The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or, Tarring & Feathering, as well as selected quotes from Samuel Seabury, and participate in a class discussion

Student will use a graphic organizer to list what expectations colonists (free, indentured, and enslaved) may have had for either complying or disobeying with Dunmore’s Proclamation.

Step 1

Project the political cartoon The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or, Tarring & Feathering for the class. Lead a class discussion using the following prompts:

Ask students to list and explain explicitly what they see in the image.

Once the class has come to a consensus, have students remark on what mood is set by the actions depicted, including a look at colors used and setting.

How does this relate to the images used in the previous supporting question that related to tea?

Why might this be considered “propaganda”?

Step 2

Project the following quote by Anglican clergyman Samuel Seabury, the first Bishop of Connecticut:

“If I must be enslaved let it be by a King at least, and not by a parcel of upstart lawless Committeemen. If I must be devoured, let me be devoured by the jaws of a lion and not gnawed to death by rats and vermin.” — writing “A Westchester Farmer” Free Thoughts on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress, 16 Nov 1774

Lead a class discussion using the following prompts:

Would you characterize Samuel Seabury as a Loyalist or Patriot? Why?

What symbolism does Seabury use in his statement?

What message is Seabury trying to convey?

Step 3

Distribute copies of the graphic organizer, primary source analysis tool, and Dunmore’s Proclamation to the class. As the class begins examining the primary source, share the following information:

On November 7, 1775, on board His Majesty King George’s ship William, Lord Dunmore, Governor of the rebellious colony of Virginia, declared martial law. Colonists who continued to oppose the laws of the King would be traitors. It was Dunmore’s desire to raise an army of those loyal to the King so that right order could be restored to the King’s colony. He thereby issued the following order:

“…I do hereby further declare that all indented servants, Negroes or others, …free, that are able to and willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s Troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing the Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to His Majesty’s crown and dignity.”

Step 4

Using a primary source analysis tool, have students work to examine Dunmore’s Proclamation. Students should use those results to complete the graphic organizer.

Extension Activity — Circle of Perspectives: Dunmore’s Proclamation

Step 1

After examining Dunmore’s Proclamation, ask students to brainstorm different viewpoints relating to this primary source as a class. Be sure to give the initial brainstorm enough time for students to really stretch and explore diverse ideas. If students need help thinking of different viewpoints, try using the following prompts:

Who (and what) is affected?

Who is involved?

Who might care?

Step 2

After the brainstorm, ask each student to choose one of these viewpoints. Give them time to prepare to speak from that perspective and to embody the viewpoint using the following script skeleton to structure what he or she says:

I am thinking of … From the point of view of …

I think …

A question I have from this viewpoint is …

Step 3

Once students have prepared their “characters”, students should be ready to go around the class and act out their various perspectives. Taking turns, ask students to speak briefly about their chosen viewpoint using the script skeleton. Invite them to stand up and use gestures and movement if necessary. The discussion at this point might move fairly quickly, capitalizing on the immediacy of the experience as each student goes through the script and shares a perspective. The array of responses will hopefully be broad and distinct, as each student should strive to produce a unique viewpoint. If some students choose the same character, encourage them to perform differently.

Further Analysis

Ask students to write a response piece looking at how Dunmore’s Proclamation may have influenced colonists towards the side fighting for independence.

Featured Sources

Source A: The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or, Tarring & Feathering political cartoon

Source B: Dunmore’s Proclamation, 1775

Source C: Selected quotes, Samuel Seabury

Additional Materials

Great Expectations Graphic Organizer

Primary Source Analysis Tool

Summative Performance Task:

Argument — Are Independence, Freedom, and Liberty the same thing?

Part 1

In this task, students will be asked to write a response to the compelling question using the evidence they gathered throughout the four formative performance tasks. Looking at the motivations of the groups of people discussed in the third and fourth supporting questions, and drawing on ideas that emerged during the structured class discussions, students should construct an argument that discusses the difference, if any, between independence, freedom, and liberty.

Before the summative performance task, it may be helpful for students to review the sources provided and the writings/graphic organizers created during the inquiry. Doing so should help them to develop their interpretations and to highlight appropriate examples and details to support their arguments. Having students rehearse their arguments and supporting details orally may help students succeed on the task.

Part 2

Students should choose a historical figure from the list attached. This person should be researched, and then students create a character sketch based upon facts learned and inferences made. Students should consider what the figure’s beliefs and values were, how they viewed the Patriot and Loyalist causes, and what their opinions were in regards to American independence. Students will also be making inferences regarding the person’s personality, ways of communicating, manner of speaking, etc., based upon their research.

Each character sketch should include the historical figures name, and if they are a Loyalist or Patriot. The character sketch should be one page and written in the 2nd person (using the pronoun “You”, rather than “He/She” or “I”.) Students should also include an image of their historical figure with the character sketch (in some cases this will be incredibly easy, in other cases, they will need to be created). It is important that character sketches are clear and concise, as students will be switching character roles with classmates and taking on the role of one another’s characters (based upon these sketches) and participating in a Colonial Town Hall Debate.

Extension and Application

Step 1

Inform all students that they will be participating in a Colonial Town Hall Debate in character. Their goal will be to convince others to believe as they do regarding American Independence. Instruct them to form groups (in character) according to their beliefs, with all Loyalists meeting on one side of the room and all Patriots meeting on the other, arranging their desks so they are facing one another. Allow students to introduce themselves in character to one another in these groups and make a statement about their beliefs. Students may also be given an allotted period of time for strategizing.

Step 2

Explain to students that when the Colonial Town Hall Debate begins, they must introduce themselves one by one, and give their reasons for being for or against American Independence. As the moderator, the teacher should facilitate a fair debate process (i.e. allow a student from the Patriot side to speak, followed by a Loyalist, followed by a Patriot rebuttal, and so on.)

Step 3

Hold the Colonial Town Hall Debate. Consider inviting other adults, parents, families, and community members to come and observe, and to act as judges for the debate. Alternatively, some students may serve as judges rather than participate in character roles. At the end of the debate, the teacher, audience, and judges can determine whether they think declaring independence is a wise idea or not based on what they have heard.

Step 4

Teachers are encouraged to record and upload the Colonial Town Hall Debates to the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation’s “In the Name of Liberty” digital collection on Historypin.

Additional Materials

Inquiry Evidence Chart

People of the Revolution suggestions

Taking Informed Action: “You Say You Want a Revolution


Investigate a current “revolution” focusing on a group of people who are trying to revolutionize some aspect of society, This could be a political, economic, social, or even technological idea.


Examine the extent to which this idea is successful and take a stance on the justification for change and if it is, in fact, a revolution.


Write an editorial for the school or local newspaper, or record a video commentary expressing feelings on contemporary “revolution”.

Taking Informed Action: “In the Name of Liberty”



Brainstorm instances of historical figures taking action in the name of liberty, freedom, or independence. Choose one of these figures and research their story. The individual can be of family, local, or national significance.


Examine the reasons that this individual or group had for taking action. How are these reasons similar and/or different to the reasons of those involved in the American Revolution?


Write an editorial for the school or local newspaper, create a visual art piece, or record a video commentary sharing this history, and expressing your feelings on the actions taken in the name of liberty, and the consequences of those actions.

Share these action pieces in the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation digital collection “In the Name of Liberty” on Historypin.