Monday, October 22, 2012

Mini Lesson: Nathanael Greene Letter (Activity 3)

LWS  3257, recto
LWS 3257, verso
* see activity two for transciption (HERE)

For upper middle school and high school levels

Students will be able to:

-          Synthesize written and cartographic information to determine the role geographic distance plays in the events of history.

-          Use written information to map important locations in the Revolutionary War.

-          Draw conclusions about the role of New Jersey in the War.


Historical Background: The Continental Army needed supplies for the winter. Moore Furman, acting as quartermaster for the Army, was working to gather some of these supplies in his home town of Pittstown, NJ as well as in Trenton, NJ. By the end of December, some supplies were finally ready to send to the main body of the Army, stationed outside of Morristown and Middle Brook, NJ. Furman wrote Nathanael Greene, a major general in the Continental Army who was stationed at Arnolds tavern on the Morristown Green, for specific directions about how to conduct the transport. This letter is Nathanael Greene’s response to Furman about the transport and other official questions. (For more detailed information, refer to Nathanael Greene Mini Lesson #1)


Suggested Use: In conjunction with Nathanael Greene Mini Lesson #2, use this mini-lesson to expand the students’ understanding of the “occasion” of the letter. Divide the class into groups. Have each group start on a different section of the SOAP STone interrogation. Have each group take turns at the classroom computer to complete this activity as well as the set of questions related to “Occasion.” If a computer is not available for student use, complete this activity as a class.


Activity and Discussion Questions:

  1. Read the first major paragraph and heading of the document. Ask students to identify the specific locations identified.

  2. Why are these locations mentioned? What is the main activity being discussed in this paragraph?

  3. What does the following sentence mean in context: “I imagine, Middle Brook will be a proper Division of the distance”? What does it tell us about how long the transport would take?

  4. Identify the relationship between these locations: Greene provides very specific instructions about how to transport the supplies.

    1. What does he literally say?
    2. Where is the winter transport coming from?
    3. Where does it ultimately need to go? (The document does not specifically say where the transport is headed – it merely says that it is going to “Camp.” Ask students to gather what clues they can from the document itself, then share with them that the main camp was Jockey Hollow outside of Morristown.)
    4. Where is Greene located in relation to the final location of the supplies? (Display or print a map of the Morristown area and its relationship to Jockey Hollow. A map is available at Scroll to the bottom of the page and select “View Park Map.”)

  5. Display the envelope: where is Furman located? Is Trentown a location in New Jersey? To which town is Greene probably referring? How do you know?

  6. Why does Greene not provide a full address on the envelope? What does this tell you about towns during the Revolutionary War period? What might it reveal about Furman’s position in those towns?

  7. Learn from people’s mistakes: what address did Greene originally write? What might be the reason for his mistake? What clues might this give about Furman?

Although sometimes mistakes do not teach us anything new about this past, this one actually points us in the right direction. With a little more research we can learn that, Furman, although living at Trenton at the time of the letter, had his estate in the village of Pittstown, the whole of which he had purchased and which he had renamed from Hoffstown. (see additional resources for more information)

  1. Have students plot the transport’s route (three locations) on Google maps. Notice how many miles apart these locations are.

  2. Having problems?! – Where is Middle Brook?

Explain how historians often have to deal with the reality that places change over time! Middle Brook is no longer a town somewhere between Trenton and Morristown. Happily for us, solving problem is pretty straightforward. Using the online resource below to show students that what once was Middle Brook is now encompassed in a much larger town of Bound Brook.

  1. Have students locate Pittstown. How far away is it from Trenton? How long was Furman’s “commute” from his home estate? What effect did the War probably have upon himself and his family?

  2. Local connection: if your school is located in NJ, have students enter the school address to associate where their town is located in relation to the events of the Revolutionary War.

Generalizing questions:

  1. What role did distance play in the struggles of the “poor fellows” mentioned in the rest of the paragraph?

  2. How much of New Jersey was impacted by the winter encampment of soldiers? What long term effects might this have had upon New Jersey’s population?

  3. Why were the soldiers stationed in NJ? Zoom out in Google maps. What was important or strategic about New Jersey’s location? Consider where the British troops were located.

  4. Reflect on the process: how do historians use primary source documents? Were you surprised by how much we could learn from one document? What clues led us to further research? Are there any questions that remain unanswered? Remaining questions are important because they tell historians what the next step of their research should be.



Common Core Standards:

RH 6-8.7. Integrate visual information (e.g., in charts, graphs, photographs, videos, or maps) with other information in print and digital texts.

NJ State Standards:

6.1.8.B.3.d. Explain why New Jersey’s location played an integral role in the American Revolution.

National History Standards:

Era 3, Standard 1: The causes of the American Revolution, the ideas and interests involved in forging the revolutionary movement, and the reasons for the American victory

Historical Thinking Standard 2: Draw upon data in historical maps in order to obtain or clarify information on the geographic setting in which the historical event occurred.

Primary Source:

Greene, Nathanael. Letter to Quartermaster Moore Furman. 4 January 1780. LWS 3257. Lloyd William Smith Collection. Morristown National Historical Park.

Additional Sources Information:

Location of Middle Brook: Revolutionary War New Jersey: A Photographic Field Guide to New Jersey’s Role in the Revolutionary War. Information about the Encampment at Bound Brook.

Information about Moore Furman:
Helpful summary information in the introduction of Letters of Moore Furman: Deputy Quarter-Master General of New Jersey in the Revolution. Edited by the Historical Research Committee of the New Jersey Society of the Colonial Dames of America. New York: Frederick H. Hitchcock, 1912. Available online:

History of the Pittstown Inn.


ML13: Nathanael Greene (Activity 3)
Mini Lesson by Julie Carlson

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