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Battle of Yorktown, Benedict Arnold, Swamp Fox, & John Paul Jones Lesson

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I am a Christian. I was an 8th-grade American History teacher. I am currently a freelance writer, public speaker, & homeschooling mom of 9.


This is part 6 of a 6 part hands-on unit on the American War for Independence. Make drums, write a secret code and seal it with wax, make and eat hominy, act out the battles of Bonhomme Richard, Cowpens, and Yorktown, and more! My lessons are geared toward 2nd-3rd grade level children and their siblings. These are lessons I created to do with a weekly homeschool co-op. We meet each week for 2 1/2 hours and have 14 children between the ages of 0-13. Use these fun lessons with your class, family, homeschool co-op group, after school program, or camp!

Making a drum using an oatmeal container

Making a drum using an oatmeal container

Introduction & Drums

1. Stretch & pray. Discuss Joshua 1:7-9.

2. As you point to each colony on your map, sing 13 Colonies Song

TEACHER/FAMILY 1: YOU WILL NEED: Words printed off & map

3. Drums: a. Ask, “If you want to talk to someone like your grandma who is in another city or state, how do you do it?” During the time of the American War for Independence they didn’t have computers or telephones but they still needed a way to communicate with people who were really far away. How do you think they did it? They used drums. They used drums to communicate with the soldiers who were scattered all around a huge field or in a forest. They used them to tell them to stand in line, to retreat (run away), and more.

b. Make a drum: Have children glue (and tape if needed) the construction paper onto the outside of the oatmeal container. Show the children how to draw X’s across it to look like the threads. Draw a big X across the entire sheet and then draw small X's across the top and bottom. Remind them to write their names on their drums. As they draw on their drums, stab 2 holes in each side of the top of the container, just under where the lid goes. Pass out a strip of yarn (about 3 feet) to each child. Have the children remove their lids and loop the yarn inside under the lid to hold it in place for a strap. Help children tie the yarn together to form a circle. Use chopsticks or dowel rods for drumsticks.

c. Have the children hang their drums around their necks and practice a few commands that you make up (i.e. 4 fast loud beats, a rolling beat, 2 soft and then 2 loud beats, etc.). The drums will be used in the Battle of Yorktown reenactment, so they can be set aside for now.

TEACHER/FAMILY 1: YOU WILL NEED:: yarn, scissors, a nail or sharp pencil or other sharp item (to stab holes in the sides of the oatmeal containers), & 14 pairs of chopsticks or 28 dowel rods & items brought by families: empty oatmeal containers, 1-2 sheets of construction paper, glue, tape, & markers

Benedict Arnold's secret messages

Benedict Arnold's secret messages

Benedict Arnold & Secret Messages

4. Read a book about Benedict Arnold. We read parts from Benedict Arnold: American Hero and Traitor by Michael Burgan.

5. Write a secret message: Show the children how to make “invisible ink” by combining bottled lemon juice with a few drops of water. Let them use a cotton swab to write a “secret message” using the lemon juice. They can blow on it to dry. When it dries completely, the message will disappear. It will reappear when they heat it up by holding it over a fire or hot light bulb. Show them this by holding your previously written note over a candle flame or light bulb.

-You can explain to the children that lemon juice oxidizes and turns brown when heated, just like what happens after you slice an apple. Diluting the lemon juice in water makes it very hard to notice when you apply it the paper.

-Other ways of sending secret messages might be to use a secret code. For example, what do you think this says: [Write “EPH” on a piece of paper.] I used the letters that come after the letter in the alphabet that I wanted to use. This is my code word for “dog.” In the alphabet E comes after D, P comes after O, and H comes after G. What letters would we write if we wanted to write cat? [DBU] If we were trying to send a secret message to someone, would could use a secret code like this so that other people wouldn’t know what we had written.

-If you are working with older children have them write and decipher secret codes using these directions found at

-Hopefully everyone’s lemon juice secret message has dried at this point. Allow the children to hold their secret messages over the heat and watch it reappear. If the notes haven’t dried yet, do activity 6 and then let the children hold their lemon-juice messages over the heat source.

TEACHER/FAMILY 2: YOU WILL NEED: a "secret message" you have written using watered-down lemon juice & a Q-tip, a candle and way to light the candle (matches or multi-purpose lighter) or a small lamp with a light bulb that is not an LED light bulb (because it needs to generate heat), bottled lemon juice, 4 small bowls [disposable ones are fine], a small cup for water, a spoon, 14 q-tips, 14 pieces of paper, & a writing utensil

6. [Light a candle while the kids are working on their lemon juice messages. You’ll want plenty of melted wax.] Another way messages were sent was to seal them with wax. When you mail off a card, what do you put it in? [Show an envelope.] What do you do to make sure the card doesn’t fall out of the envelope when you mail it or that your mailman reads the card? [Let children answer and then you can lick the envelope to seal it.]

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-250 years ago they didn’t have envelopes like these that glued shut when you lick them because paper was very expensive. If they had a message that they didn’t want someone else to read, they would seal it with wax. If the person who received the message got it and the wax seal had been broken, they would know that someone had sneaked a peek at the letter.

-Demonstrate this by folding up your secret message paper. Carefully drop some of the wax from the candle onto the letter where the 2 ends meet & allow the wax to cool.

-Each person also had their own stamp that they would stamp into the wax while it was hot. [Show a rubber stamp.] That way the person receiving the message knew that it hadn’t been opened and then closed up again by someone else.

TEACHER/FAMILY 2: YOU WILL NEED: an envelope, a candle & a way to light the candle (matches or multi-purpose lighter), a rubber stamp (like what children use), & sealing wax (optional)

Book to use for activity 4

Dramatizing the battle between the Bonhomme Richard & Serapis

Dramatizing the battle between the Bonhomme Richard & Serapis

John Paul Jones

7. Read a few pages about John Paul Jones. If you are teaching lower elementary aged children, summarize the pages of John Paul Jones by Keith Brandt as you flip through them. Read the last 2 pages. If you are teaching upper elementary aged children, read pp. 15-31 of The Story of the Bonhomme Richard by Norman Richards.

8. (Video record this.) Dramatize the battle between Bonhomme Richard & Serapis. Divide up the children between 2 boxes (or make up 2 ships using circles of chairs or tables placed on their sides). One box will be the ship Bonhomme Richard and the other will be the ship Serapis.

-Give the children toy guns and paper ball "grenades." Assign one child to be Captain John Paul Jones & one to be Captain Richard Pearson, the British captain of Serapis. Tape epaulets to their shoulders. Have a mom talk out the scene and instruct the children what to do children:

-On the Bonhomme Richard, a lookout reports, “A ship is to the north.”

-Jones calls out, "It's the HMS Serapis. Pile on the sail and let's chase it!" The sailors pull on the ropes to raise the sails so the ship will move faster.

-Jones opens fire with his starboard. The sailors in both ships fire at one another and throw grenades at each other.

-One of Jones' men announces, "Our 18-pdr guns burst!"

-The men on Serapis cheer, "We're pounding their ship!" Pearson demands, "You must surrender!"

-Jones yells to Pearson, "I have not yet begun to fight!" and then calls to his men, "Our only hope is to turn the ship and ram Serapis!"

-Quickly the crew of Bonhomme Richard bound the two ships together with hooks. His men throw a rope with a hook onto the Serapis so that it can’t sail away.

-The ships continue firing into each other as men on both sides die.

-Finally, Pearson finally surrenders his ship to Jones by waving his white flag. John Paul Jones has led America to win this battle that happened in the water between two ships, the Bonhomme Richard & Serapis. He is a Navy hero!

TEACHER/FAMILY 4: YOU WILL NEED: 2 big boxes, 48 pieces of scrap paper [to be wadded up as paper balls], 2 sets of construction paper epaulets, tape, a jump rope or other rope to act as the rope with a hook, a white "flag" (towel), & items brought by families: costumes & guns

Book to use for activity 7

Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox", loved hominy

Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox", loved hominy

Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox"

9. (Preheat the oven while the book is read about John Paul Jones in activity 7.) Tell the children that we’re going to learn about Francis Marion, who was also called “The Swamp Fox" because he’d hide in the swamps. One of his favorite meals involved sweet potatoes roasted over a campfire. We’re going to pretend to cook these peeled and sliced sweet potatoes over the “campfire” we have set up in the next building. Spray a baking sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Let each child grab a few sweet potato fries and drop them on the baking sheet. Tell the children you’re going to cook them “over the campfire.” Bake them according to package directions. After they come out of the oven, sprinkle some brown sugar over the hot sweet potato fries.

TEACHER/FAMILY 1: YOU WILL NEED:: 1 bag of sweet potato fries, a baking sheet, non-stick cooking spray, and 1/4 cup brown sugar

10. Read a few pages about Francis Marion, "The Swamp Fox." We summarized and read parts of Francis Marion and the Legend of the Swamp Fox by Kate Salley Palmer.

11. Make hominy:

a. Teacher/Mom 1: Divide a pound of bacon in 3-4 equals sections. Allow 3-4 older children to use cooking shears to cut the bacon ("from a wild boar") into tiny pieces and let the pieces drop into a frying pan. Tell them you will fry it while they wash their hands. Fry the bacon on high for about 5 minutes or until crispy. Drain the fat.

b. Mom 2: Meanwhile, let 3 children use can openers to open the 3 cans of hominy. Drain them. Give a piece of hominy to each child. Tell them that hominy is actually a corn kernel that has been soaked in lime or lye. The women who make soap at Stephen Foster State Park use lye to make soap. If you put corn in lime or lye, it corrodes, or eats away, the hull and germ of the corn and causes the grain of corn itself to puff up to about twice its normal size. Hominy can be made with either white or yellow corn. Once soaked, hominy can be dried and then ground and simmered to make grits or we can heat it and eat it. The hominy we got out of these cans has already been cooked. Try it. Francis Marion might have made it tastier by adding bacon, salt, and wild onion grass. We’ll do that as soon as the bacon is ready.

c. Teacher/Mom 2 can talk a little bit about swamps. Francis Marion and his men hid in swamps so that the British soldiers wouldn’t be able to find them – and wouldn’t want to find them. What kinds of animals live in swamps? [Let children answer.] A very tiny animal that is very bothersome that lives in swamps are mosquitoes. Who likes to get bitten by mosquitoes? Back then they didn’t have Off! or other mosquito sprays. Francis Marion, the Swamp Fox, insisted that drinking water with vinegar in it would keep mosquitoes away. You will get to try vinegar water today with your meal. If the bacon still isn’t ready yet, allow the children to smell vinegar.

d. Whenever the bacon has been fried and drained, have the children add the 3 cans of hominy and a tsp. of salt & pepper. Cook over medium high, stirring frequently for 2-3 minutes or until heated. Let child add in 4 diced green onions ("wild onion grass").

TEACHER/FAMILY 2: YOU WILL NEED: wipes to clean hands, 1 lb. of bacon, large skillet, 3-4 pairs of kitchen shears, mixing spoon, 3 cans of hominy (sold in the canned vegetable aisle), salt, pepper, 1 tsp. measuring spoon, & 4 chopped green onions

12. Eat the Swamp Fox meal. Francis Marion enjoyed eating hominy and sweet potatoes cooked over a campfire, and he always drank his vinegar water to ward off mosquitoes. Serve the children & moms the sweet potato fries and hominy. Serve them vinegar water (water with a few drops of vinegar).

TEACHER/FAMILY 2: YOU WILL NEED: 20 small plates, 20 forks, 14 small cups, 14 napkins, vinegar

Women in the War and The Battle of Cowpens

13. Briefly mention some of the women involved in the war using pictures from Heroines of the American Revolution by Diane Silcox-Jarrett. End on Catherine Moore Barry: The Heroine of Cowpens.

14. Read about the Battle of Cowpens from Fight for Freedom: The American Revolutionary War by Benson Bobrick.

Book to use for activity 13

Book to use on activity 14: Battle of Cowpens

Dramatizing the Battle of Cowpens

Dramatizing the Battle of Cowpens

15. Go outside to reenact the Battle of Cowpens:

-Explain that at the end of some of the muskets/guns, some of the soldiers would have knives that they called bayonets. That way to could shoot someone and then stab them. We’ll pretend we have bayonets at the ends of our toy guns.

Assign one person to be General Tarleton in charge of the British army and one person to be Daniel Morgan of the Continental/American army. Tape epaulets to each of their shoulders.

-Have the redcoats march in a straight line toward the Continental Army. Have the Continental Army stand in 3 lines, 1 behind the other. Line 1 shoots 3 shots and runs to the back of the line. Line 2 shoots 3 shots & runs to the back of the line. Line 3 shoots 3 shots & runs to the back of the line. (If you have a smaller number of people you can have 1 line of Continental Army soldiers and have them stand in line. The first person "shoots" 3 times & then runs to the back of the line. The next person in line "shoots" and then runs to back of the line.) Continue this until the Redcoats reach the Continental Soldiers.

-Then have "Tarleton" tell the Redcoats to charge.

-Have "Daniel Morgan" (of the Continental Army) announce they ran out of gunpowder. Have the Continental Soldiers GENTLY "stab" the British soldiers with their "bayonets" (the ends of their guns) because they can’t shoot them anymore.

-The tape & epaulets will be used again in activity 18.

TEACHER/FAMILY 4: YOU WILL NEED: 2 sets of construction paper epaulets, tape, & items brought by families: costumes & guns

Dramatizing the Battle of Yorktown

Dramatizing the Battle of Yorktown

Battle of Yorktown

17. Discuss Battle of Yorktown and Cornwallis' surrender using pictures from Fight for Freedom: The American Revolutionary War by Benson Bobrick or read the 2 pages about it from the picture book George vs. George by Rosalyn Schanzer.

18. (Video record this.) Reenact the British surrender, followed by a victory march and the two sides signing the peace treaty in Paris.

-Hang sheets over some chairs to be the breastworks for the British army.

-Assign someone to be Cornwallis of the British army and someone to be George Washington. Tape epaulets to their shoulders. Assign 2 younger children to be drummers, 1 for each side. Let them use the toy drums they made. They can drum as desired.

-Have the soldiers shoot at each other. Cornwallis will finally tell his drummers to drum their surrender. A British soldier will wave the white flag. Everyone stops shooting.

-Cornwallis says, "I'm ill. You go!" and hands his sword to his second in command. He doesn’t want to have to face General George Washington and say they lost the battle.

-The British second in command marches over to the "French" general and tries to give him the sword. The French general points to George Washington. Since it’s not Cornwallis bringing over the sword, George Washington points to his second in command, who accepts Cornwallis' sword.

-The British then sadly march away as one soldier plays on the “fife” (recorder).

-With the help of the French soldiers, American has won the War for Independence! The Battle of Yorktown was the last major battle, and American won! America is now free from British rule! They are no longer ruled by King George III! Who do you think American picked to rule over them? [George Washington] We’ll learn about President George Washington next week!

TEACHER/FAMILY 4: YOU WILL NEED: 2 bed sheets, white handkerchief/towel/cloth napkin tied to a stick, toy sword, recorder (musical instrument), & items brought by families or other co-op members: costumes, epaulets, tape, drum (ones we just made), & toy guns

Props & costumes: comforters, white handkerchief/towel, toy sword, drum (ones we just made), "fife" (recorder), & 12 toy guns

19. (If you are not limited by time) Review 13 colonies by playing geography games on back patio.

* Brother Benjamin, a game modeled after the colonial game Brother Jonathan, to review the 13 colonies:

Here is how to play:

a. Make a map of the 13 colonies (about the size of a hopscotch board) on the driveway or back patio with chalk. Label each colony with a number. Draw a line either to the north or south of your map (according to your map, not the compass!) about 3 feet away from the border (adjust distance for age of children). This is the throwing line.

b. Assign a point value to each colony, giving the small colonies and those farthest away from the throwing line the highest point value.

c. Make a table of the colony numbers and point values and designate a judge/scorekeeper. He fills out the chart as you play and tallies the points at the end.

d. Taking turns, toss a small stone or a penny onto the map. If the stone lands on a colony that has not been guessed already, state the colony name to win the points. If the stone lands off the map, on a "taken" colony, or on a line, you lose your turn. You can play in teams or individually. The team or person with the most points wins.


* Play Twister on the map. For that you need to make direction cards such as: Place your right hand on Virginia. For greater difficulty: Place your right hand on the state in which the Battle of Saratoga took place.

20.5 Minute Review of what we learned: What did the armies sometimes use to communicate with the soldiers? (drums) What did Benedict Arnold do? How can you write a secret message? (lemon juice, switching around letters) What would they use to seal a message (wax) Did John Paul Jones fight on land or on water? (water) What was the name of his ship? (Bonhomme Richard) When his ship was sinking and the British general thought the Americans were going to sink, what did John Paul Jones say? (“I have not yet begun to fight!”) Who won that battle? (John Paul Jones/the Americans) What was Francis Marion’s nickname? (Swamp Fox) Where did he hide? (swamps) What did he sometimes eat and drink? (sweet potatoes, hominy, vinegar water) How did the women help during the war? What happened at the Battle of Cowpens? What was the last major battle of the American War for Independence? (Battle of Yorktown) What was the name of the British General who surrendered to George Washington? (Cornwallis) What was your favorite activity we did today?

Material List for the Lesson

*Everyone needs to bring per child:

Please bring per child:

-a long toy gun

-Boys need British soldier costumes: Bring or wear to co-op: a red coat/jacket/sweater and a tricorn hat (pirate hat or tricorn hat we made). If desired, you can also include items such as a white wig, white pants, &/or long black socks such as your husband’s socks or soccer socks (to act as the black boots).

-Girls need American Colonist costumes: Bring a tricorn hat (pirate hat or tricorn hat we made). If desired, you can also bring or wear to co-op khaki pants, long white socks such as your husband’s socks or soccer socks, a button-down dress shirt, &/or a vest.

-1 empty oatmeal container

-2 pieces of construction paper for the oatmeal container drum (Red is preferable but any color will be fine.)


-tacky or Elmer’s glue

-scotch tape (1 roll per family)

-sealing wax (optional – If anyone happens to have sealing wax, please bring it to show to the group how it is used.)

*Items to be assigned to individuals to bring for the group:


Benedict Arnold: American Hero and Traitor by Michael Burgan

John Paul Jones by Keith Brandt or The Story of the Bonhomme Richard by Norman Richards

Francis Marion and the Legend of the Swamp Fox by Kate Salley Palmer