Blood on River Primary Source Lesson John Smith Map Objectives

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Blood on River Primary Source Lesson John Smith Map


In this lesson, students will:

  • Analyze John Smith’s 1612 map of Virginia and identify the water features.

  • Hypothesize about the importance of the different symbols on the map.

  • Identify the location of the Jamestown settlement and reasons for the site choice based on the geography of the area.

  • Answer questions based on the information from the map: What did John Smith value? What did the Virginia Company value?

  • Compare the map to a 21st-century map of Virginia.

Standards of Learning


The student will develop skills for historical and geographical analysis including the ability to:

a) identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history;

b) determine cause and effect relationships;
c) compare and contrast historical events;

d) draw conclusions and make generalizations;

e) make connections between past and present;
f) sequence events in Virginia history;
g) interpret ideas and events from different historical perspectives;

h) evaluate and discuss issues orally and in writing; and

i) analyze and interpret maps to explain relationships among landforms, water features, climatic characteristics, and historical events.


VS 2c: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the geography and early inhabitants of Virginia by: Locating and identifying water features important to the early history of Virginia (Atlantic Ocean, Chesapeake Bay, James River, York River, Potomac River, and Rappahannock River)

  • Many early Virginia cities developed along the Fall Line, the natural border between the Tidewater and Piedmont regions where the land rises sharply and where the waterfalls prevent further travel on the river.

  • Each river was a source of food and provided a pathway for exploration and settlement of Virginia.

VS 3b: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the first permanent English settlement in America by: Describing how geography influenced the decision to settle at Jamestown:

  • When the settlers arrived in 1607, Jamestown was located on a narrow peninsula bordered on three sides by the James River. Today, Jamestown is located on an island in the James River.

Reasons for site choice:

  • The location could be easily defended from attack by sea (Spanish).

  • The water along the shore was deep enough for ships to dock.

  • They believed they had a good supply of fresh water.

VS 3g: The student will demonstrate knowledge of the first permanent English settlement in America by: Describing the interactions between the English settlers and the Powhatan people, including the contributions of the Powhatans to the survival of the settlers:

  • Captain John Smith initiated trading relationships with the Powhatans.

  • The Powhatans traded food, furs, and leather with the English in exchange for tools, pots, guns, and other goods.

  • The Powhatan people contributed to the survival of the Jamestown settlers in several ways:

    • Pocahontas, daughter of Chief Powhatan, believed the English and American Indians (First Americans) could live in harmony.

    • Pocahontas began a friendship with the colonists that helped them survive.

    • The Powhatans introduced new crops to the English, including corn and tobacco.

  • The Powhatan people realized the English settlement would continue to grow.

  • The Powhatans saw the colonists as invaders that would take over their land.

VS 4b: The student will demonstrate knowledge of life in the Virginia colony by: Describing how European (English, Scotch-Irish, German) immigrants, Africans, and American Indians (First Americans) influenced the cultural landscape and changed the relationship between the Virginia colony and England.

  • Cultural landscapes: Whenever people settle an area, they change the landscape to reflect the beliefs, customs, and architecture of their culture. Examples of cultural landscapes include:

    • Barns

    • Homes

    • Places of worship (e.g., churches)

  • Place names reflecting culture:

    • English—Richmond

    • American Indian (First American)—Roanoke


  • Student copies of the John Smith 1612 map, one for every two students

  • Student copies of current map of Virginia (e.g., desk placemat map in Virginia Studies textbook)

  • Loose leaf paper


1. Pair students with their social studies “buddies” (I use a high/low pairing).

2. Write this question on the board so everyone can see it:

  • “What is important to John Smith?”

  • Underneath the word “important,” write a list of synonyms including “necessary” and “valuable” so that students can think about survival as well as about wealth, profit, and success. Under Smith’s name, write “the colonists” and “the Virginia Company” so that students can expand their thinking and analysis to think beyond Smith to his contemporaries.

3. Give each pair of students a replica of Smith’s 1612 map. Explain that the objective is to answer the question(s) using the map as their resource.

4. Ask students to discuss the map and the question(s) with their buddies.

5. Circulate to all pairs multiple times, stopping regularly to comment on questions or observations. Here are a few things students will likely notice:

  • The most striking thing about this map is the sheer amount of information about Virginia’s Native Americans. Students will quickly notice the many American Indian names. This connects to VS4b regarding cultural landscapes. Look for students to compare the American Indian names (Powtomack) to English names (James Towne) and to notice the sheer number of Indian village names compared to the number of English names. Students can extend this even further below [See Procedure #7] when they look at a current map of Virginia.

  • Point out (when needed) the map key and the drawings on the map to glean more information about the settlers’ perspective on American Indians. Smith needed to know where the American Indians were because they could help settlers (i.e., by trading food) and hurt settlers (i.e., by attacking because the English were invaders who were taking their land). This connects to VS3g.

6. Allow students about 15 minutes to discuss and develop an answer (or answers) to the question(s) posed.

7. After about 15-20 minutes, pass out a large, laminated map of Virginia printed in the 21st century. Ask students to briefly (5-10 minutes) compare the two maps to assess (and appreciate) the differences in the needs and values of the mapmakers in 1612 and in 2004.

  • Notice the orientation of the 1612 map. It is “sideways” compared to today’s map and highlights the importance of the Chesapeake at that time. With the map turned, the Chesapeake and its tributaries become the center of the map, indicating how important it was to the settlers.

  • This will help connect the lesson to Vs1i, VS2c, and VS3b, namely how the settlers depended upon the waterways for travel and so established their settlements along the water. The current map, by contrast, has very little detail about the waterways of the Chesapeake. It highlights highways and roads instead.

8. Bring students all together for a wrap-up discussion (15-20 minutes) to share observations and draw conclusions.

Homework Options

  • Have students pretend that they are settlers from Jamestown who are exploring with Smith on a map-making expedition in the Chesapeake. Write letters back to the Virginia Company detailing the significance of the abundant waterways to the future development of the settlement and its financial prospects.

  • Have students pretend they are settlers in Jamestown during the Starving Time who are setting out to one of the nearby Algonquian villages to trade or ask for food. Draw a map showing the path you took (via water) to get to the village. Write a short diary entry explaining the route and what happened with the Indians when you got there.

  • Have students complete a graphic organizer comparing the different transportation options open to the settlers when they arrived in 1607 (water vs. walking over land). What are the pros and cons of each option?

  • Have students pretend they are one of the original 104 settlers. Make a postcard to send back home to a family member showing and explaining where you chose to build the fort and why.

  • Have students work in groups to create clay maps of the Tidewater region using the 1612 map as a resource for the waterways. Include the Chesapeake, the Atlantic, the four main rivers (Potomac, Rappahannock, York, and James) and the major tributaries of those rivers into the Piedmont (Appomattox, Chickahominy, etc.) showing the changes in elevation with the clay.

  • Read and answer questions from a textbook lesson on the 1607 arrival and settlement on the peninsula.

  • Create a vocabulary flip chart with important geography words, pictures, and definitions, such as river, bay, ocean, tributary, elevation, fall line, and peninsula.

  • Have students complete a Venn diagram comparing the 1612 map to the 21st-century map.

  • Have students complete a T-chart comparing the answers to these two questions: “What is important to John Smith?” and “What is important to the Virginia Company?”


    • High-low pairings for Social Studies buddies

    • Hands-on experience with the maps for visual and kinesthetic learners

    • Class discussion for aural learners


    • Teacher observation during pair/share and whole group discussion

    • Any of the above “homework options”

    • Unit test

  • References

  • Books and Media

  • Boyd, Candy Dawson, et al. Virginia. Glenview, Illinois: Scott Foresman, 2003.

  • Commonly used Virginia Studies textbook.

  • Bulla, Clyde Robert. A Lion to Guard Us. New York: HarperTrophy, 1981.

  • This is a good historical fiction story of a family of children trying to reach their father in Jamestown.

  • Cocke, William. A Historical Album of Virginia. Minneapolis: Millbrook Press, 1960.

  • Though this resource is older and is geared for middle school students, it can provide a helpful overview to first-time teachers.

  • Foner, Eric and John A. Garrity. The Reader’s Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.

  • This encyclopedia of American history is a great start for someone new to teaching Virginia history. You can look up a person, place, or term, and there will be a short entry giving an overview and some details. The best part can be found at the end of each entry where related entries are listed, giving the reader further places to look for context. See “Smith, John” to begin your adventure.

  • Fritz, Jean. The Double Life of Pocahontas. London: Puffin Books, 1987.

  • This is an excellent biography of Pocahontas. There are two and a half pages of reference citations in the back. It is written primarily for middle school or higher readers, but it is a good read-aloud book. Also, it is an excellent source for teachers who are new to Virginia and looking for a quick but detailed overview of the relationships between the early main characters (Smith, Pocahontas, Powhatan, Ratcliffe, and Newport).

  • Hermes, Patricia. Our Strange New Land: Elizabeth’s Diary, Jamestown, Virginia, 1609. New York: Scholastic, 2000.

  • Part of the “My America” series, this book and book II, The Starving Time: Elizabeth’s Diary, Book Two, Jamestown, Virginia, 1609, both are historical fiction written from the perspective of a little girl living in Jamestown. In it, she interacts with Captain John Smith. It is an easier read for lower readers, and makes the experience real for the students.

  • Mello, Tara Baukus, and Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., Colonial Leaders: John Smith, English Explorer and Colonist. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.

  • This is a biography of Smith that fourth graders on grade level can read. It has good pictures from the modern Jamestown exhibit, as well as artwork from Smith himself.

  • Websites

  • World History Matters. Center for History and New Media

  • This link takes you directly though World History Matters into the World History Sources section on analyzing maps. There are some great questions to have students ask when looking at maps, including expert analysis, and there is a discussion on John Smith’s interactions with the Powhatan ( which would be excellent to show using an LCD projector.

  • Alexandria City Public Schools – Curriculum and Instruction

  • This site provides links for general social studies instruction, including a link to the Virginia State Department of Education website and Standards of Learning test preparation, as well as specific links for geography and history.

  • David Rumsey Map Collection

  • This website has a searchable database of old maps, and you can search by state. None of the maps go as far back as 1612, but several are from the middle of the 18th century and would make an interesting extension lesson.

  • History Matters

  • All of the resources I used in this unit were found on this site or through links from this site. Search for “John Smith” to get started. You’ll find an exchange of views between Powhatan and Smith in 1608 ( This site is searchable and user friendly.

  • The Library of Virginia

  • This site is an excellent resource for primary map documents. There is a whole section called “Delineating Virginia” that has maps of Virginia dating back to John White’s map from the late 16th century. The maps print fairly well.

  • Solutions: The Daily Press

  • This is a great website to find comic strips that are educational and entertaining for students. In October 2002, there are five strips on Pocahontas, and in January 2000, there is a week of John Smith comics. In addition, there are comics on the James River and on the Chesapeake Bay for extension.

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