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Lesson Plans - Gold: The American Dream?

NAME OF LESSON:

Gold: The American Dream?

GRADE(S) DESIGNED FOR: 8
TIME REQUIRED: 3 classes of one hour each

NAME OF AUTHOR:

Elizabeth Beaulieu
PRIMARY SALEM in History CORE THEME ADDRESSED:

An Industrious People: American Economic History

ADDITIONAL SALEM in History CORE THEME(S) ADDRESSED:

 

SALEM in History Topic Addressed:

“Westward Ho!”: Westward Migration in the 1840s and the 1850s: Who, Where, Why, How?

Lesson Summary | Frameworks | Essential Question(s) | Lesson Objectives
Historical Background Essay | Materials List and Pre-Arrangements/Preparations Needed
Vocabulary | Lesson Activities | Student Product or Performance
Assessment Criteria | Possible Modifications | Possible Extension Activities
Cross Curricular/Interdisciplinary Links/Activities | Sources and Resources
Additional Resources for Students and Teachers


LESSON SUMMARY:

The challenges and difficulties of the trail west across the plains during the 1800s is a standard element of a United States history course. The themes of independence, self-reliance, perseverance, and endless opportunity for those willing to work for it, all are usually demonstrated in this typical unit of study. How the events of the 1848 and the 1849 Gold Rush to California tie to national events and themes is where this lesson demonstrates its usefulness. The “rush” did not come in a vacuum. Americans and immigrants to America were all searching during the 1800s for opportunity. The lesson will ask students to read four letters from a migrant from Newburyport finding his way to California to seek opportunity between 1849 and 1854. Through these letters, students will be able to see how this man’s point of view on the Gold Rush shifts and fits into a larger context of looking for and creating opportunity in this emerging American economic landscape. Students will analyze the question, “Did the Gold Rush present an example of the American Dream? The primary sources used to guide students through this question are the letters of Leonard Withington Noyes. The first two letters are written from Chicago where Noyes is attempting to develop a business on the Great Lakes and surrounding canals. Later students read about his change of heart and need to move on from Chicago, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans where he decides to try his hand in the mining camps of California. The final letter students read reflects the challenges of making money in a mining camp, the cultural diversity of the camps, and the isolation of living in such a place. To organize students’ observations during reading, students will use a data collection chart. Each night they will answer probing questions to help them interpret or contextualize the information they are reading in class. Finally, as a demonstration of their understanding, students will write a fictitious obituary for Noyes, tying together the changes within his life and the connections to the wider nation. Through reading primary sources, data collection and a synthesizing writing activity, students will be learning why people went west, that the Gold Rush did not produce wealth for all, and that it took place in a developing nation with other economic and social forces such as immigration.

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PRIMARY SOURCES & SOURCE TYPES USED in LESSON:

Leonard Withington Noyes, Chicago, IL, to B.H. Noyes, Esq [Newburyport?]. 7 January 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (letter)

Leonard Withington Noyes, aboard the St. Br Indiana, Chicago, IL, to his sister [Newburyport?]. 28 May1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (letter)

Leonard Withington Noyes, New Orleans, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 24 October 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Abaigeal Duda. (letter)

Leonard Withington Noyes, Owlsboro, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 13 December 1854. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Transcription by Phillips Library. (letter)

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ESSENTIAL QUESTION(S):

What is the American Dream?

How did the Gold Rush demonstrate the American Dream?

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LESSON OBJECTIVES

LEARNING/CONTENT OBJECTIVES:

Students will be able to understand:
  • why people went west
  • that the Gold Rush did not produce wealth for all
  • that the Gold Rush took place in a developing nation with other economic and social forces such as immigration

CONCEPT/SKILLS OBJECTIVES:

Students will be able to:

  • discern changes in point of view due to changing economic conditions
  • collect information from a primary source and draw conclusions 

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CORRELATION WITH HISTORY STANDARDS FROM the 2003 MASSACHUSETTS HISTORY AND SOCIAL STUDIES CURRICULUM FRAMEWORK

MA FRAMEWORK STRAND: US History 1 – Grade 8

MA FRAMEWORK UNIT/THEME ADDRESSED:

Political Democratization, Westward Expansion, and Diplomatic Developments, 1790-1860

MA FRAMEWORK LEARNING STANDARD(S) ADDRESSED:

USI.26 Describe the causes, course, and consequences of America’s westward expansion and its growing diplomatic assertiveness. Use a map of North America to trace America’s expansion to the Civil War, including the location of the Santa Fe and Oregon trails. (H, E, G)

  • the War of 1812
  • the purchase of Florida in 1819
  • the 1823 Monroe Doctrine
  • the Cherokees’ Trail of Tears
  • the annexation of Texas in 1845
  • the concept of Manifest Destiny and its relationship to westward expansion
  • the acquisition of the Oregon Territory in 1846
  • the territorial acquisitions resulting from the Mexican War
  • the search for gold in California
  • the Gadsden Purchase of 1854

MA FRAMEWORK CONCEPT AND SKILLS STANDARD(S) ADDRESSED

GRADE AND SUBJECT: 8th grade United States History 1

NUMBER(S) AND DESCRIPTION(S): 

4. Interpret and construct charts and graphs that show quantitative information. (H, C, G, E)

7. Show connections, causal and otherwise, between particular historical events and ideas and larger social, economic, and political trends and developments. (H, G, C, E)

13. Define and use correctly mercantilism, feudalism, economic growth, and entrepreneur. (E)

18. Explain how competition among sellers lowers costs and prices, and encourages producers to produce more. (E)

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HISTORICAL BACKGROUND/CONTEXT ESSAY: 

            Between the 1830s and the 1850s dramatic social changes were afoot in the United States. Immigration in this period was increasing. 2.3 million people immigrated during this time alone.1  Many of these people could not or did not want to stay in the urban areas of the east. War with Mexico had resulted in California becoming a part of the United States territory. The west provided a chance to own land. Mormons and easterners looking for land and opportunity moved west. Social movements such as suffrage, temperance, abolitionism and religious reforms were highlighting the differences in world-view of communities across the nation. And then came the Gold Rush.

            In 1848 gold was discovered in California. Americans, immigrants, native Mexicans and Native Americans all converged around the Sierra Nevada Mountains in mining camps searching for gold. The gold rushers were different from the other pioneers going west. Pioneers were looking to build community, establish businesses, or establish religious settlements.2 The majority of 49ers were there for gold.

            One such miner was Leonard W. Noyes. His letters illustrated this different way of seeking opportunity. Noyes’ early letters came from Chicago and were sent back to Newburyport asking his sister and other women to send their miniatures, images, to Chicago so that they could find husbands there. The hope was that more women would come to Chicago to settle. When he finally decided to set his sights on California mining, his letters lost that interest.3 The letters from California talked about gambling, murder, and the influence of immigrants. His tone in the letters caused the reader to conclude that California was no place for one’s sister or a lady.

            The letters of Leonard Noyes illustrate the changing values and economic interests of Americans moving west during the 1840s and 1850s. Initially the ideal of Manifest Destiny as an American right to pursue opportunities in the west was central to Noyes’ goal. He moved to Chicago in 1847 to establish a business on the canals around Chicago. Like many he enthusiastically reported back and asked people to come and join him in his endeavor. But as Thomas Hietala argues in his essay, “The Myths of Manifest Destiny” there was only so much opportunity and Americans needed more land to fulfill their need for opportunity.5

            Within two years, Noyes had changed his opinion about the opportunities in Chicago and was looking toward California. His reports of living in the mining camps did not reflect a money making endeavor but one of cross-cultural interaction as well as a difference in the intentions of the people who were in the camp. There was no mention of marriage or asking people from his hometown to come west as there were in his earlier letters.6  This change reflects the flexible and ever changing American Dream within the story of westward migration.

1 Jones, Wood, Borstelmann, May, and Ruiz, eds., Created Equal: A Social and Political History of the United States (Boston, Pearson Longman, 2005): 310.

2 Kurutz, Gary F., The California Gold Rush: A Descriptive Bibliography of Books and Pamphlets Covering the Years 1848-1853, Introduction by J.S. Holliday. (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1997): 20.

3 Leonard Withington Noyes, Owlsboro, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 13 December 1854. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

4 Leonard Withington Noyes, Chicago, IL, to B.H. Noyes, Esq [Newburyport?]. 7 January 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

5 Thomas R. Hietala, Manifest Destiny: Anxious Aggrandizement in Late Jacksonian America, (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1989).

6 Leonard Withington Noyes, Owlsboro, to his brother [Newburyport?]. 13 December 1854. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

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MATERIALS LIST AND PRE-ARRANGEMENTS/PREPARATION NEEDED

MATERIALS LIST:

Data Collection Activity Sheet – 3 per student

Class sets of the 4 letters

Homework Sheet – Letter From New Orleans –- 1 per student

Writing Assignment – Writing About a Life: Leonard Withington Noyes –
1 per student
  

PREPARATION:

Prior to this lesson, students would have studied about the exploration of Lewis and Clark, some about the Oregon Trail, as well as the increased numbers of immigrants participating in the settlement of lands west of the Mississippi. This lesson will be an extension of the themes of seeking opportunity to achieve dreams that were unattainable: in Europe because of decreasing amounts of land and for easterners in response to economic and industrial changes. This lesson can also help to highlight that the only choice for opportunity was not California; people were trying to find it everywhere. It is also helpful to have a timeline of American history displayed in the classroom to provide ideas for other simultaneous events. Students should also have studied about the reform movements of the mid 1800s, immigration changes, and the growth of industry in the east.

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VOCABULARY:

    • entrepreneur
    • vessel
    • endeavor
    • prospects
    • economical
    • miniature
    • cholera
    • mining

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LESSON ACTIVITIES:

Day 1:

    1. Students will be asked what the American Dream is. The teacher will record various responses on chart paper to save for later. Hopefully the class will come up with ideas such as owning your own home, owning a business, being able to achieve personal goals or even the right to pursue personal goals. From here the teacher will say that the class will be reading some letters from a man in the 1800s and determining whether he has lived the American Dream. At this point, the teacher would not make the essential question explicit since he/she wants the students to determine for themselves whether the Gold Rush embodied the ideals of the American Dream.

    2. Next students will be broken into cooperative groups to read and take notes on one of two 1st letters from Leonard Withington Noyes in January and May 1849 from Chicago, Illinois. Students will use the Data Collection Activity Sheet to record their notes.

    3. At the end of the period, students will come together, and the teacher will lead the group through some sharing of the data so that all groups get the data from each letter. If time permits, the teacher can have all groups read both letters.

    4. For homework students will answer some general probing questions about the first two letters and a third letter from Leonard Withington Noyes.  The third letter is very short and reveals that Noyes is now in New Orleans. Students will also gather some data from this letter to be used in class the next day.

    5. Before leaving class for the day the teacher should revisit the question of the American Dream. “Is Leonard Withington Noyes living the American Dream? How can you tell he is or he is not?”

Day 2:

1. To tie up the activity from the previous day, the teacher will guide students through a series of guiding questions regarding the three sources they have thought about so far ending with a question about the American Dream. At this point in Noyes’ life it may seem unclear and ambiguous whether he is living the American Dream. It may bring up the idea that this dream is about the ability to pursue a dream as opposed to actually achieving the goal of owning land or a business.

Guiding Questions:

  • Observation Question - What did you observe in the two letters you read and heard about?
  • Interpretation Questions - Why do you think he is interested in having his sister, Priscilla send a miniature, photograph? Why does he think that Chicago can “spare a few more of them [the Irish]”? What is his goal with the boats running on the canal? What is his opinion about the Gold Rush in California? What do you think Leonard Withington Noyes’ goal is?
  • Argument Question - Do you think he is living the American Dream in 1849?

2. Students will then read the letter from Noyes once he has been in California for a period of time. This source illustrates the difficult life he is leading. Again students will use the Data Collection Activity Sheet to take notes during cooperative reading.

3. For homework students will use the data to interpret and contextualize their understanding of the Gold Rush, hardship and opportunity.

Day 3:

1. On this day students will learn about the culminating assessment. Please see the description and criteria below.

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ASSESSMENT/STUDENT PRODUCT or PERFORMANCE:

In order to synthesize student understanding about the period of the Gold Rush as well as the adventurous life of Leonard Withington Noyes, students will write a fictitious obituary from the year 1880.

The reading of his letters will provide data for the obituary. Students will also be asked to extrapolate what he may have learned in his lifetime from his experiences in Chicago, on the Mississippi River and making his way to California. He did live in extraordinary times and from his letters one can see how he is thinking about some of the issues of immigration, entrepreneurship, the expansion of the United States and shifting opportunities.

Students will read current obituaries and determine the types of information included as well as the writer’s style and tone in an obituary to prepare for the writing piece.

See the attached activity for the details of directions.

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ASSESSMENT CRITERIA:

Students will be assessed on the following points:

  • dates – inclusion of relevant and accurate dates from his letters and other historical events of the time period.
  • relations – mention of his relatives referred to in the letters.
  • key events in his life – a clear focus on the key events in his life.
  • how those key events connect to the national story of expansion – a discussion of how his life related to larger national events of the 1800s. (The transportation revolution, immigration, migration, the Gold Rush, etc.)

Students will be given a rubric based on the criteria above to guide their writing and revising.

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POSSIBLE MODIFICATIONS:

  • Use pictures in magazines to illustrate what people think the American Dream is. Students could find these pictures or the teacher could if the students are English Language Learners.
  • A modification of the assessment could also be a visual representation of Noyes’ life journey and a short explanation of whether he was living the American Dream or not based on the images.

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POSSIBLE EXTENSION ACTIVITIES:

One extension would be to take a field trip to the Boston Public Library to read and copy sections of the Newburyport Daily Herald from 1880. Students could then place their obituaries in the context of the nation, Noyes’ life and local events and concerns.

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CROSS CURRICULAR/INTERDISCIPLINARY LINKS/ACTIVITIES:

Language Arts – writing: Students are asked to identify the style and tone of an obituary and then write in that style.

Language Arts – reading: Students are asked to make inferences by reading a text closely and identifying details to support their inferences.

Geography – exact and relative location – As an additional activity a teacher can use a class map of the United States to illustrate the route Noyes took to get to California based on the information in the letters.

Art – collage – Students can create collages of what the American Dream means today and in the 1880s.

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SOURCES AND RESOURCES

PRIMARY SOURCES USED USED IN LESSON:

Leonard Withington Noyes, Chicago, IL, to B.H. Noyes, Esq [Newburyport?].
7 January 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

This letter written to Leonard’s brother, B.H. Noyes, outlines Leonard’s endeavors to sell fish he has brought with him from the east and to begin a business using a boat in which he has a partial interest.  He also gives his opinion about people going to California. He thinks it is a bad idea and that there is money to be made in Chicago. Priscilla, his sister, enters into his letter when he suggests she send a miniature of herself to Chicago to find a fellow. A concern he reports is the problem with cholera and smallpox in the city. At this point, he also mentions his bias against the Irish.

Leonard Withington Noyes, aboard the St. Br Indiana, Chicago, IL, to his sister             [Newburyport?]. 28 May 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

In this letter to his sister Priscilla, he tells about the continued problems with cholera and its impact on business. He also mentions how friends have died of the disease. Again he encourages her to find a husband in Chicago by sending her image to him so he can find a suitable mate. Another bit of news is a major fire that has just happened in the city. This source includes so many of the key problems and issues of urban living in the mid 1800s.

Leonard Withington Noyes, New Orleans, to his brother [Newburyport?].
24 October 1849. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library,           Peabody Essex Museum.

In this letter, the reader learns that Leonard has been forced to leave Chicago, sell his interest in the boat and unload all of the fish he has.  The reader also learns that the he owes his family, back in Newburyport, money and that he still sees himself in debt to them. The next day he is setting sail for California by way of Panama.

Leonard Withington Noyes, Owlsboro, to his brother [Newburyport?].
13 December 1854. Leonard Withington Noyes Collection, Phillips Library,             Peabody Essex Museum.

The rough life of a mining town is evident in this letter to Noyes’ brother. Gambling, horse racing, horse stealing and murder are the pastimes reported. Noyes’ opinion of immigrants is clear based on the language he chooses to use. The isolation of the camps is reflected in his interest to get more newspapers sent so he can keep up with life at home. He also comments on local sites in Newburyport that he is missing. The last paragraph presents some difficult text where he refers to Native Americans with a derogatory term, speaks of political issues using terms with which the students and teachers would not be familiar. For these reasons, I think this letter may need to be excerpted for use in a middle school classroom.

SECONDARY (PRINT) SOURCES USED IN LESSON:

(none used)

SECONDARY (PRINT) SOURCES USED TO CREATE LESSON:

Hietala, Thomas R. Manifest Destiny: Anxious Aggrandizement in Late             Jacksonian America.  Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1989.

Jones, Wood, Borstelmann, May, and Ruiz, eds. Created Equal: A Social and             Political History of the United States.  Boston: Pearson Longman, 2005.

As a general American history text, Created Equal, provides an overview of historical periods, causes and effects. The section used in this lesson focused on the mid 1800s, the changing political landscape, issues of migration and the gold rush.

Kurutz, Gary F. The California Gold Rush: A Descriptive Bibliography of Books             and Pamphlets Covering the Years 1848-1853.  San Francisco:  Book Club of California, 1997.  Introduction by J.S. Holliday.

In his introduction, J.S. Holliday argues that the purpose for going west was different for different populations. Particularly different were the pioneers from the gold rushers. For instance young men went to California while temperance groups went to Oregon.

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ADDITIONAL RESOURCES FOR TEACHERS AND/OR STUDENTS:

(none suggested)

 
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