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Fitz Henry Lane Online Educational Resources

Setting Sail for Distant Horizons: Cape Ann Captains and their Cargoes

Lesson plan 3A: Grades K-5

 Fitz Henry Lane Online Lessons are designed to encourage students to make observations while looking closely at artwork and archival documents, to carry out their own investigations into the nineteenth-century world of an artist and his surroundings, and to foster critical thinking at multiple levels. Lessons were designed with a 30-45 minute timeframe in mind for observation and group discussion. Assessments were designed for completion with the teacher during additional class time or independently at home. 


What can a lithograph tell students about maritime activity in nineteenth-century Massachusetts?  Artist Fitz Henry Lane lived at a time when many Americans, especially those living in a port city, were off exploring the world, delivering and receiving goods, having adventures, and living in a global community. They couldn’t do this without their ships. These vessels served many purposes. This lesson will utilize primary sources such as images, logs and letters to learn more about three nineteenth-century vessels.


  • Students will discuss and answer the question: what is maritime commerce?
  • Students will discuss and answer the question: how did maritime commerce assist in the development of Massachusetts?
  • Students will research the history of three nineteenth-century ships.
  • Students will research and record the cargo and purpose for each ship’s excursion.


Wall chart of worksheet 5

Copies of worksheet 5 for each student (Teacher Key)


Please note: it is recommended that the teacher preview the site including the lithographs, paintings, interactive features and historical materials for the lesson in advance.


Explain to the class that they will be using Fitz Henry Lane Online to help them answer the essential question: How did maritime commerce assist in the development of Massachusetts?

Ask students if they know the definition of maritime commerce.

Maritime: Of or relating to sailing on the sea or doing business such as trading  by sea.

Commerce: Activities that relate to the buying or selling of goods and services.

Access Fitz Henry Lane Online Departure of the "Jamestown" for Cork, Ireland, 1847 (inv. 475)


Departure of the "Jamestown" for Cork, Ireland, 1847 (inv. 475)

As you zoom in and around the lithograph, start to think about what this image might tell about maritime activity in the nineteenth century. Ask the students to make observations about what they see in the lithograph.

  Click the link below to access a primary source account of this particular voyage of the Jamestown.

The Voyage of the "Jamestown" on her Errand of Mercy.

Robert Bennet Forbes, Boston: Eastburn's Press, 1847

Show the students the PDF of the booklet The Voyage of the Jamestown, written by the captain of the ship, R.B. Forbes. Together read the introductory paragraph. Students should record information about the Jamestown on the attached worksheet 5 as the teacher reads and the class discusses the document. Draw the students’ attention to the kind of information that the captain recorded on the trip. Ask students if this is an example of maritime commerce. Why or why not?

 Follow the same procedure with the paintings Burning of the Packet Ship "Boston", 1830 (inv. 82) and Cunard Liner "Britannia", 1842 (inv. 259) by completing worksheet 5 together. The information needed to complete the chart can be found in the commentary and historical materials below each painting.


Place students in pairs or small groups and ask them to answer the question: How did maritime commerce assist in the development of Massachusetts? Their answers should include reference to the Jamestown, Boston and Britannia. 


Using Fitz Henry Lane Online, research the history of the Brig Cadet Brig "Cadet" in Gloucester Harbor, late 1840s (inv. 13). Use worksheet 5 from above. Answer the following questions: What goods were exchanged between Surinam and Gloucester? Does this surprise you?


Massachusetts History and Social Science Standards

5.11 Explain the importance of maritime commerce in the development of the economy of colonial Massachusetts, using historical societies and museums as needed. (H, E)

A. the fishing and shipbuilding industries

B. Trans-Atlantic trade

C. The port cities of New Bedford, Newburyport, Gloucester, Salem, and Boston

 Common Core Standards

CCS RI.5.3

Explain the relationship or interactions between two or more individuals, events, ideas or concepts in a historical, scientific, or technical text based on specific information in the text.

 CCS SL.5.1

Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 5 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.

Citation: "Setting Sail for Distant Horizons: Cape Ann Captains and their Cargoes." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum. (accessed May 24, 2024).
Please note that the information on this and all pages is periodically reviewed and subject to change.
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