Digital Paxton: Digital Collection, Critical Edition, and Teaching Platform

Lynching and Terrorism: The Paxton Boys

This lesson reviews contemporary definitions of terrorism and lynching and applies them to the massacre of the Conestoga people by the Paxton Boys in 1763. Students will learn vocabulary, read primary and secondary sources, and perform their own research using Digital Paxton. For assessment, have students create a pamphlet that applies what they learned.

Lesson Objectives:
Historical Thinking Skills:
Essential Questions:
•    Was the massacre of the Conestoga people a lynching?
•    Were the Paxton Boys terrorists?

Grade Level: Grades 8-12

Duration: 120 minutes

Teacher Background: Teachers should be familiar with the Paxton Boys and the massacre of the Conestoga people. Teachers should read Dr. Fenton's overview, browse Digital Paxton, and/or ask a librarian for help with the research excerpted in the lesson.

  1. Distribute Worksheet Packet
  2. Have students define the word "lynching" and "terrorism" using the Worksheet Packet (pages 1-2 of packet).
    1. Where have they heard these words before?
    2. Do they know what they mean?
  3. Review definitions with students, ensuring that each part of the definition is reviewed. For instance, it is key that terrorists have a political purpose—make sure students understand that they need to look for political reasons as they research. For lynching, the action must be extralegal and conducted by a mob of 2+ people (pages 3-4).
  4. Show students the research graphic organizers (pages 7-8), and check that students understand that they have to find all the parts of the definition as they research.
  5. Review Historical Context (pages 5-6). Set up the major players and locations. Only answer questions that are integral for understanding the sources. Do not answer the focus questions.
  6. Have students read through the primary sources first to find answers to the essential questions (begins on page 10).
  7. Have students read through the secondary sources. Struggling students may start with the secondary sources. Advanced students may skip the secondary (so they have to piece together the primary sources—a more difficult skill).
  8. When students have completed the readings, review the Research Worksheet (page 9) to set up the online research. Depending upon the grade level, students may perform this research in-class or as homework. Once students can answer the focus questions with evidence, they may stop research.

Assessment: Have students create their own pamphlet that addresses the focus questions. (Other options might include a letter, account, discussion, op-ed, political cartoon, or poem.) Students should answer the questions using primary and secondary source materials. They may evaluate evidence the SPARC technique (SPARC Handout).

This lesson was created during the 2019 Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History Teacher Seminar, "Native Peoples, Settlers, and European Empires in North America, 1600-1840" (July 28-August 3, 2019). You may also download a printable version of this lesson.

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