3-4 Activities

Ideas to try....

English Language Arts

Literacy activities may be built around letters to or from families at sea; for example, see the book Letters from Sea. The letters offer opportunities for students to distinguish between fact and interpretation, as well as opportunities to talk about prior knowledge—are there parts of these letters that assume prior knowledge on the part of the reader? How is this issue dealt with by the compiler, in the case of Letters from Sea?  Be aware of the different perspectives of young or older writers, on shore or at sea.

Writing assignments can include original creations of diaries, letters from sea, from foreign ports, or from home, and descriptions of the culture and geography of ports visited. In giving presentations, students may use a map and/or photo to supplement their report on a foreign port, or talk about a specific family, some members of which might be at sea and some ashore.

What are some words that have become standard in English usage ashore that originated in the maritime days of the sailing ships? Even the term “on deck” in baseball came from Belfast, Maine’s maritime-oriented baseball team. See Joanna Colcord’s book, Sea Language Comes Ashore.


Compare medicine and ideas of health in the 19th century to present-day medical treatments. Remember that antiseptics were not known or used until the last third of the 19th century. How did this affect health?


Create lists of business and occupations within a maritime community, including those that are not directly related to maritime industry. With diagrams, show how these businesses and occupations overlap and rely on many other businesses and people within the community.

Choose a product of Maine and investigate how it was produced. In Maine’s maritime towns in the nineteenth century, goods and services supported the construction and maintenance of merchant ships. What businesses operated in shipbuilding towns to support shipbuilding, and what products and services did these businesses produce? Apply this to other industries in Maine’s maritime communities, such as fisheries, granite quarrying, lime quarrying and processing, lumbering, etc. What resources and efforts were required to make these products?

Science and Technology

What animals, fish, and birds were possibly observed by families on land around Penobscot Bay? Discuss how bird populations declined drastically in the Bay’s outer islands because of humans eating their eggs and using bird feathers in fashionable hats. What other animal populations have changed as a result of human settlement?

How did technological developments of the 19th century, such as steam power, create industrial development, and what effects did this have on businesses around Penobscot Bay?

Civics and Government

Between the American Revolution and 1820, about 200 new towns were formed in Maine. How do towns become settled, organized, and incorporated? What are the roles of town government, especially when a town is new?


Art projects—sewing, models, carving, needlework, painting are possible. Create and execute original maritime designs in several different media. What arts were important in 19th century homes? How did decorative arts help carry a sense of community aboard Maine vessels as they traveled around the world? If you traveled, what sorts of keepsakes would you want to bring home to remember your trip? Would they be artistic and reflective of the culture where you visited?


Compare the necessities of daily life—food, shelter, and clothing—on board ship and ashore, and past and present day Maine.


Study old store account books, which may be found at the museum or on the website. How are quantities expressed? Relate old measurement systems and currencies to those we use today.