Unit 3: Summary

Learning Themes:

This unit supports students’ exploration of corn as both a primary source and the central feature of the harvest celebrated in Fall 1621. Students will explore Tisquantum as a transatlantic historical figure, learn about the role of corn and other arable crops in the daily lives of Wampanoag and colonial English families, and use original and reproduction objects and historical images to compare and contrast agricultural practices and cultural perspectives on growing corn.

Key Ideas

  1. During the spring and summer of 1621, the English and Wampanoag planted corn on either side of Town Brook in New Plymouth/Patuxet.
  2. Tisquantum - also known as Squanto - directed the English in how to plant corn and fertilize the soil using herring (called “shad” by the English). Although the English don’t mention it in their sources, it is likely that Wampanoag women, who were responsible for the planting, helped. The English planted twenty acres of Native corn and six acres of barley and peas in 1621. Not all the crops thrived. The peas withered, and the barley did not grow as well as the Indian corn.
  3. “Corn” had a different meaning for the Wampanoag at Patuxet and colonial English families. For a Wampanoag family, weatchimim referred to flint corn (also known in English as Indian Corn) which has hard kernels set in rows on a cob and grows in a variety of colors. To the English, “corn” was a general term referring to different types of cereal crops particularly wheat, rye, barley, peas, and oats. The English used terms such as “turkey wheat,” “flint corn,” or “Indian corn” to refer to the weatchimim they first planted in the spring of 1621.
  4. Wampanoag women tended large gardens with 1-3 acres of corn, beans, and squash. Children often played and worked in the gardens alongside their mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, and cousins. Men grew tobacco for special ceremonial uses, but they did not work in the gardens.
  5. In England, men oversaw the planting and harvesting of their family’s cereal grains and other market crops, though it seems likely the entire family may have been called to help during particularly busy seasons. Women oversaw the planting and tending of kitchen gardens that included root vegetables, salad greens, and herbs for seasoning and medicinal purposes. Children often helped in the garden.
  6. Throughout time, harvests have been a matter of survival. A bad harvest might bring hardship such as supply shortages, and a good harvest was a time for gratitude and celebration.

Learning Goals

In this unit, students will:

  • Explore the role Tisquantum played in the development of agriculture in Plymouth.
  • Learn about the essential role of corn and other cereal crops in the daily lives of Wampanoag and colonial English families leading up to the 1621 harvest celebration.
  • Use objects and historical images to compare and contrast colonial English and Wampanoag cultural practices and perspectives about growing corn.
  • Evaluate evidence and make reasoned judgements to sort objects by cultural origin;
  • Use data to answer questions and solve problems

Primary Sources

Essential Questions

  • Who is Tisquantum and what role did he play in the development of agriculture in Plymouth?
  • In the early 1600s, who was responsible for growing corn in Plymouth and Patuxet?
  • How did the English colonists adapt their agricultural practices to life in Patuxet?
  • What role did corn play in daily life for English and Wampanoag women and children? For English women, how were these roles different from those they had back in England?
  • What technologies did Wampanoag and English people use to grow, harvest, and prepare corn?
  • Why was a good harvest important for colonial and Wampanoag communities? What might happen to the community if a harvest failed? If it was successful?

Suggested Activities

Upper Elementary/Grades 3-6

  • Write a story, play, or graphic novel to tell a story about planting, tending, harvesting, and processing corn in 1621. What do you think Plymouth/Patuxet looked, smelled, and sounded like?
  • Keep a food journal for one week. Compare what you ate with the Wampanoag and colonial English diets in the 1600s. How are their diets the same or different to yours today? Choose one food you have in common and do some research to learn more about its history.
  • Work with the students to make nasaump in your classroom using only the 17th-century description and the artifacts in this unit. Do you have all the information you need? What questions do you have? Invite students to create their own variations using local, seasonal fruits
  • Grinding corn was hard work! Challenge your students to see who can grind the most flour using a simple mortar and pestle available at most craft and home goods or kitchen stores.
  • Draw and label a diagram of the grist mill. Label the simple machines working in the mill. How does each simple machine contribute to the process of turning corn kernels into meal?
  • Compare the mortars and pestles to the water-powered mill. Reflect on what it would feel like to do this work every day and how building the mill changed daily life in Plymouth Colony?
  • Explore the Wampanoag tradition of “companion planting” as an environmentally sustainable horticultural practice. What plants are involved and how do they biologically support each other?
  • Plant a companion garden using corn, beans, and squash. You can do this in a school garden, in a container garden, or in pots on the window sill. Keep a record of the plants’ growth.
  • Students do research to explore the role of mills in our food systems today. How and where is grain grown and ground today? How has milling technology changed since the 1600s? How has it stayed the same?

Middle and HighSchool/Grades 6-12

  • Imagine you are planning an episode about Wampanoag food for a cooking tv show. How would you include 3-5 artifacts and the nasaump recipe in your episode? Write a script and shoot a teaser video for the episode.
  • Listen to this podcast episode about mills in the 17th century. How would you determine the impact the building of a mill had on daily life for men and women in Plymouth Colony? What about Patuxet?
  • Explore how corn cultivation has changed over time, particularly in the Americas. Compare the benefits and challenges of traditional Wampanoag “companion planting” with other agricultural practices common in the US today.
  • Evaluate the “common course of labor” and its impact on the success of Plymouth Colony. Where was it used, and where wasn’t it in Plymouth Colony in 1623? Do you think a common course of labor would work in American communities today? For what types of work? Why or why not?

Additional resources