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Death at Jamestown
Overview Procedures for Teachers Organizers for Students

In 1607 one hundred four men landed in Virginia to form Jamestown, a settlement that was the birthplace of the United States. But by the end of the first year, all but thirty-eight of the one hundred settlers had died. Why did this happen? There are many theories as to why this happened - many of which are explored in the Thirteen/WNET New York program SECRETS OF THE DEAD: DEATH AT JAMESTOWN. As a preview activity, this lesson asks students to investigate some of the theories explored in the show to further engage them in the series of events and subsequent mystery surrounding the Jamestown deaths.

Acting as historians and scientists, students read primary and secondary source materials, evaluate climatology data, and analyze artifacts to learn about the mystery surrounding the Jamestown deaths. Students will also take a critical look at information and evaluate the motives, interests and biases expressed in primary and secondary sources. The lesson concludes by having students consider a new theory about a possible conspiracy responsible for the Jamestown deaths, form an opinion about it, and defend their position.

If you miss the initial July 10 broadcast, The SECRETS OF THE DEAD: DEATH A JAMESTOWN video can be purchased for $19.95 plus shipping and handling by calling 1-800-336-1917, or by writing to PO Box 2284, South Burlington, VT 05407.

Grade Level: High School

Time Allotment:

Activity One- Two fifty-minute classes and one homework

Activity Two- Three fifty-minute classes

Culminating Activity- Three fifty-minute classes and three
spacerhomework assignments

Subject Matter:
Social Studies
Language Arts

Learning Objectives

Students will be able to:
  • write a letter that exhibits an understanding of the historic significance of the Jamestown colony.
  • explain how the use of primary sources, artifacts, and climatology data can be used to create a theory about the reason for a historic event.
  • critically analyze Jamestown information sources.
  • conduct research to gather and analyze information about the Jamestown colony.
  • evaluate the credibility of Dr. Frank Hancock's theory regarding the Jamestown colony.

National Standards:

STANDARD 2 National Center for History in the Schools
The student thinks chronologically:
  • Identify the author or source of the historical document or narrative and assess its credibility.
  • Reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage by identifying who was involved, what happened, where it happened, what events led to these developments, and what consequences or outcomes followed.
  • Identify the central question(s) the historical narrative addresses and the purpose, perspective, or point of view from which it has been constructed.
STANDARD 3 National Center for History in the Schools
The student engages in historical analysis and interpretation
  • Hold interpretations of history as tentative, subject to changes as new information is uncovered, new voices heard, and new interpretations broached.
  • Evaluate major debates among historians concerning alternative interpretations of the past.
  • Hypothesize the influence of the past, including both the limitations and the opportunities made possible by past decisions.
STANDARD 4 National Center for History in the Schools
The student conducts historical research:
  • Formulate historical questions from encounters with historical documents, eyewitness accounts, letters, diaries, artifacts, photos, historical sites, art, architecture, and other records from the past.
  • Interrogate historical data by uncovering the social, political, and economic context in which it was created; testing the data source for its credibility, authority, authenticity, internal consistency and completeness; and detecting and evaluating bias, distortion, and propaganda by omission, suppression, or invention of facts.
  • Support interpretations with historical evidence in order to construct closely reasoned arguments rather than facile opinions.
State Standards:

Standard 1: New York State Social Studies Standards, from the New York State Education Department

The skills of historical analysis include the ability to: explain the significance of historical evidence; weigh the importance, reliability, and validity of evidence; understand the concept of multiple causation; understand the importance of changing and competing interpretations of different historical developments.
Students will:
  • consider different interpretations of key events and/or issues in history and understand the differences in these accounts
  • view historic events through the eyes of those who were there, as shown in their art, writings, music, and artifacts.
This lesson was prepared by: Laurel Blaine