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Author: Bridget Fariel ,Rivendell High School
Grade Level: 9-10
Length of lesson: One 75-minute class period
This lesson introduces students to a cobbler's account book (8 pages of which are reproduced for this lesson). By examining these pages and answering questions, students learn to investigate and decipher a historical document that reveals a great deal about life in their local geographic area in its early settlement days. The following pages of the cobbler's account book are provided:
In the days of early settlement, account books were used to record the exchange of goods and services in a very similar fashion to the computerized methods used today. Local merchants, craftsmen and traders maintained records of transactions and trusted their neighbors enough to allow a line of credit. Customers would settle accounts with goods and labor andless oftenwith cash. The account books were maintained using monetary values despite the method of payment used to settle an account.
A note to remember: "Any rural householder at any given time could owe and be owed by many of his neighbors. Actually, the mutual indebtedness acted as a powerful social cement. Ideally, local debts were always collectible. Few men had the assets sufficient to settle all of their debts on demand, and, to most, economic survival meant not being called upon to settle frequentlyor, worst of all, unexpectedly."1Procedures
6.6 Being a Historian
6.7 Movements and Settlements
Questions above can be made into worksheets; alternatively, groups could each explore a different set of questions, and then present their learning to the other groups.Assessments
This lesson was not formally assessed at the time. It was assessed at the end-of-unit exam with the question, "What did we learn of early economic patterns in this New England town?"Extension Activity
Have students research early census data on the family names that appear in the account books. Ask them if they see any connection between the cobbler account book and the census data. Have them write a reflection on what they have learned or wonder about regarding one of the families, and include a description of how the local economy appears to be organized.Materials and Sources
The source for the cobbler's account book was the Fairlee Historical Society; it is currently located in the Fairlee Town Offices. The book is believed to have belonged to Daniel Freeman (whom I found in the Fairlee Census of 1790, and then in Orford by 1810). He seems to have started his profession as a cobbler, and eventually diversified into inn keeping in Orford (for Samuel Morey).
For additional background resources on the colonial economy visit the Sturbridge village site at http://www.osv.org/learning/Sources