5-8 Activities

Ideas to try....

Career and Education Development

Look into possible maritime careers today, including those that spend time at sea and those that are shore-based. What education do you need? What did seamen need to learn in the nineteenth century, and how did they learn it? How did captains attain their positions? What did ship owners, ship builders, sailmakers, and blacksmiths need to know?

Select an occupation practiced in Maine’s 19th century maritime communities. Research that occupation, and prepare an oral presentation to your peers describing clearly what a day in your life might be like. Include details of your education, your work environment, how you came to hold the position and how it affects you and your family. Prepare an outline to speak from and share your sources.

If you were a young woman in 1875, would you accompany your husband on board ship? Why or why not? Would you want to be a mother at sea? If you stayed at home, how would your role be different from women whose husbands were at home? How did the community offer support? If you were a sea captain, would you take your family along on long voyages? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

English Language Arts

Read some original source material, such as excerpts from Letters from Sea or other letters or diaries available at the museum. Can students find evidence of personal slant on information read? Write their own letter or diary entry, trying to demonstrate different styles in public vs. personal writings. Include a description of an imaginary event, such as a storm, a rescue, an accident at the shipyard, the launching of a ship, etc. What kind of descriptive language can students use? Write letters from other perspectives, such as family members staying behind on shore or who are still at sea.


Health and disease were viewed differently in the 19th century. What were causes and treatments available then? What risks were involved in working in a shipyard? What role did diet play in health? Construct a visual aid to demonstrate the similarities and differences between today’s occupational hazards and those of the 19th century. What did doctors learn in that time and how were they trained, in comparison to the present day?


Cargo management and shipbuilding required careful measurements: size of hold, size of building materials (scantlings), registered tonnage, and capacities of containers. Learn about the different kinds of measurement used.


Some Searsport homes featured items from around the world. Learn more about imported furniture, art, porcelain, and fabrics.

Science and Technology

Study the influence of technological change in transportation systems on maritime communities. What were the impacts on people, use of resources, and trade? Write about how life in maritime communities changed, first with the advent of regular steamboat service to Boston from the Maine coast, and then the advent or railroads, larger steamships, automobiles, and trucks.


Compare domestic life in foreign ports visited by Maine seamen in the 19th century to domestic life in a Maine maritime community on Penobscot Bay. Show with diagrams the network of relationships in each location between different businesses and occupations.

Locate a historic house in your community. Learn something about the architecture of the dwelling and the house’s history. Who lived in it, what occupations did they do, how did it fit into the community, with respect to its location? Is it close to natural resources, such as fresh water and water power? Is it close to town or far away? Has its location been more advantageous at other times in history?

Find an appropriate location in your community to try historical archaeology. Appropriate places might be on the shore line, at the site of a very old dump, or in the back yard of a very old house. Get local permissions. At the shore, perhaps near an old pier where old things can lodge, pick a 1-meter square and collect any man-made objects that can tell stories of the past. Try to identify the objects and draw conclusions about the local history.


Consider how music has been an important part of communities. Pianos were very popular to own in the late nineteenth century, before phonographs were invented. Since then, stereo systems and radio have brought to communities along shore and inland the music of many cultures from around the world. Likewise, changes in the presentation of theatrical arts have moved from stage performances to movies to the home. How have technological developments in the arts and transmission of the arts changed the nature of community?