Early English Settlements History Detectives

The lesson will be a “History Detective” activity. The student will investigate the Early English settlements through a variety of sources such as pictures, journals and documents. They will be asked a series of Historical Reading questions. The lesson will encompass the social studies content aligned with the state standards of Virginia.

Historical Background

The overarching theme of this time period is exploration and competition for empire. The European countries were in competition to be the biggest, wealthiest and most powerful empire. They all wanted a piece of the “pie” that became known as North America. I will be specifically teaching about the early English settlements during the time period (late 1500’s to mid 1600’s).

Roanoke Island was an English economic venture and there were two attempts to establish a colony here. The first attempt was led by Sir Water Raleigh in 1585. There were approximately 100 men and after a very difficult winter the unhappy colonists decided to return to England. The second attempt in 1587 was led by John White, a mapmaker and artist. He led 91 men, 17 women and 9 children. His daughter gave birth to the very first English child born in America, Virginia Dare. She was named after their Queen, Elizabeth I, whom is also known as the Virgin Queen. John White decided to go back to England for supplies, leaving the colonists at Roanoke, and intending to return in a couple of months. Unfortunately, England’s war with Spain prevented him from returning for three years. When he did return he could not find the colonists. The only clue of their fate was the word “Croatoan” carved on a post. That was the name of the local Indian tribe. Roanoke became known as the “Lost Colony” and the mystery still haunts historians today. The colony failed and discouraged England of colonization until the idea emerged again in1606.

A charter by the Virginia Company of London (a joint-stock company) was granted to “make habitation…into that part of America, commonly called Virginia.” Boarding the ships Godspeed, Discovery and Susan B. Constant 105 men set off on an economic venture to claim land in the name of King James and search for gold and other natural resources. When they arrived in 1607, Fort James was built on the James River and Jamestown was established. They were led by an experienced soldier and explorer, Captain John Smith. The English “Gentleman” that accompanied Smith on the voyage soon learned that everyone must work or they would not eat. Smith returned to England after an injury and the colonists went through a dire time known as “The Starving Time”. The relationship between the settlers and the Powhatan improved after colonist John Rolfe married the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas. Ironically, the crop that “saved” Jamestown from failure (economically) was a crop John Rolfe learned to grow, tobacco. It became their cash crop and they began to proper.

Thirteen years after Jamestown was established another group of Englanders headed to the New World. Two boats left England, The Speedwell and The Mayflower. The Speedwell took on water and had to return to England. The Mayflower continued on with a group of people who were Separatists from the Church of England and wanted to start over and avoid the constant religious persecution. They were headed to the Virginia colony when a storm blew them off course and they came to present day Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Before they disembarked from the ship, they signed an agreement about how they would behave in the New World called the Mayflower Compact. These settlers were led by William Bradford. The settlers had a very difficult first winter and many died of starvation and sickness. When they finally came into contact with a friendly native, Squanto, the Pilgrims’ (which they later became known as) future became brighter. Squanto taught them farming techniques that saved their lives from starvation. The Pilgrims were so thankful to the Indians they held a feast in their honor and it became known as the First Thanksgiving.

Lesson Objective

The essential question I would like students to be able to answer at the end of the lesson: What were the religious and economic events and conditions that led to the colonization of America?



  1. Hook/Preview: The lesson will be introduced with the idea that students will be “Historical Detectives.”
  2. Explain to the students that they will learn about a colony that was an “Epic fail”, and a colony that most people starved to death but they somehow persevered and became the First Permanent English settlement, and a group of people that were “bullied” in England and wanted religious freedom and to start anew in the New World.
  3. Steps for analyzing the primary source: the students will use their Historical Reading Skills reference (they have in their binders), look at several documents, pictures and maps and answer the “Historical Detective” questions provided.
  4. Document #1: John White Returns to Roanoke. Questions include: Who is the author of the journal? What judgments can we make about him? What words/phrases do you notice? What is the overall tone or message of the document? When was the document written? What relevant or significant events came before or after this journal was written?
  5. Document #2: John White’s return (drawing). Questions include: What objects do you see in these pictures? Who are the people in the drawing? What words do you notice? What does the word mean? What do you think the people are talking about? Where are they? What differences do you notice between the drawing and the journal entry? Which document seems more reliable or trustworthy? Why?
  6. Document #3: First Charter of Virginia. Questions include: What kind of source is it? Who is it written for? What words do you notice? What is the purpose of this document? What event followed this document? When did this take place?
  7. Document #4: Drawing of Jamestown Settlers. Questions include: What objects do you see in this picture? Who are the people in this drawing? What is the overall tone/climate of this drawing? What are the different activities people are doing in this picture and why? Where are they?
  8. Document #5: Mayflower Compact. Questions include: Who is the author? What type of source is it? What does the text say overall? What words do you notice? What is the overall tone or message of the document? When was the document written? What significant event happened after this document was written? Why was this document written?


The students will complete an exit ticket (after the second block of presenting the material) as a formative assessment.


Encyclopedia Virginia. “John White Returns to Roanoke; an excerpt from The fift voyage of Master John White into the West Indies and parts of America called Virginia, in the yeere 1590 (1600)”.http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/John_White_Returns_to_Roanoke_an_excerpt_from_The_fift_voyage_of_Master_John_White_into_the_West_Indies_and_parts_of_America_called_Virginia_in_the_yeere_1590_1600 (accessed July 28, 2012).

World Mysteries. “Roanoke-colony”. http://www.worldmysteries.tv/blog%20photos/roanoke-colony.jpg (accessed July 28, 2012).

The Avalon Project. “The First Charter of Virginia; April 10, 1606”. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/17th_century/va01.asp (accessed July 30, 2012).

Maine.edu. “Jamestown Settlement”. http://faculty.umf.maine.edu/walter.sargent/public.www/web%20230/jamestown%20settlement.jpg (accessed August 17, 2012).

NcMayflower. “Mayflower compact”.
http://www.ncmayflower.org/images/compact.jpg (accessed July 29, 2012).

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