Lesson Plan: Overview

"Doing History" The Crafting of a Christopher Gadsden Biography

Grade Level: 8th

Thumbnail of Student # 4's student work

Academic Standards

Standard 8-2:The student will demonstrate an understanding of the American Revolution—the beginnings of the new American nation and South Carolina’s part in the development of that nation.

8-2.1 Explain the interests and roles of South Carolinians in the events leading to the American Revolution, including the state’s reactions to the Stamp Act and Tea Act; the role of Christopher Gadsden and the Sons of Liberty; and the role of the four South Carolina signers of the Declaration of Independence – Edward Rutledge, Henry Middleton, Thomas Lynch Jr., and Thomas Heyward Jr.

8-2.3 Summarize the course and key conflicts of the American Revolution in South Carolina and its effects on the state, including the attacks on Charleston; the Battle of Camden; the partisan warfare of Thomas Sumter, Andrew Pickens, and Francis Marion; the Battle of Cowpens; and Battle of Kings Mountain.

Social Studies Literacy Elements
P. Locate, gather, and process information from a variety of primary and secondary sources including maps
S. Interpret and synthesize information obtained from a variety of sources—graphs, charts, tables, diagrams, texts, photographs, documents, and interviews

Historical Background Notes

Some of South Carolina's most famous men earned their place in history during the tumultuous times of the Revolutionary War. Christopher Gadsden was one such person. His story began in February 1724 when Thomas and Elizabeth Gadsden welcomed their new son into the household. Young Christopher's education included a stint in England and a clerkship with the Philadelphia merchant Thomas Lawrence. It was this latter experience that prepared him for the lucrative business career he was to pursue as an adult. After serving as a supply master on a merchant vessel that was pressed into service during the French and Indian War, Gadsden became a merchant dealing furs, slaves, land, and country produce. His business acumen resulted in a chain of stores in Charleston, Georgetown, and the Cheraws as well as plantations in the Pee Dee region (Edgar 259-260).

Known as “General Gadsden,” his military experience was limited to his naval service previously mentioned, his founding of an artillery company that served in one of the conflicts with the Cherokee in the 1760s, and as a general over South Carolina’s militia during the Revolution. This brief command ended when his conflict with General Howe over whether the Continental army or the state should control South Carolina’s forces led to his resignation (Edgar 260-61).

The General, though, secured his place in history not on the battlefield, but in the realm of politics. Serving as a member of the Royal Assembly for St. Philip's Parish from 1757 to 1775, Gadsden became a prominent spokesman for colonial rights as English citizens. (Edgar 262). His staunch stand against perceived tyranny was evidenced in his protest against the Stamp Act of 1765.

After the French and Indian War, Britain found itself with a large war debt and new expenses to administer the colonies and new lands gained from the French in the Treaty of Paris. In fact, Britain found itself burdened with a debt 140,000,000 lbs (Savelle and Middlekauff 503) requiring over half of the annual budget just to pay off the interest, let alone reduce the debt (Divine et al 148). George Grenville headed George III's government and felt it was only right for the colonies to help pay for their own defense. In fact, his goal was for them to pay about a third of the estimated 350,000 lbs cost to administer and defend themselves and their newly acquired territory (Savelle and Middlekauff 503, 509-510).  After banning the colonies’ ability to print their own money, despite the fact that Britain’s mercantilistic policies drained hard currency from the colonies (Savelle and Middlekauff 1964, 509), Grenville’s main solution was a tax which would exhaust the money supply in the South. The colonists were appalled to find that Parliament required a special stamp be purchased for all printed documents including court papers, licenses, wills, diplomas, deeds, contracts, pamphlets, newspapers, and even playing cards and dice (Stamp Act).

When the news reached the colonies that Parliament had concurred with Grenville, anger erupted, resulting in riots and vandalism. Many colonists believed that only their assemblies composed of men they had elected had the right to tax them; the fact that the colonists had no opportunity to vote in Parliamentary elections precluded that body’s right to tax them. British politicians retorted that Parliament represented everyone. In fact, even some towns in England itself did not elect representatives, yet they accepted Parliament's decisions and so should the colonists (Soame Jenyns).

So concerned over what they considered a violation of their rights as Englishman, nine of the colonies sent representatives to New York in October of 1765. Gadsden, along with John Rutledge and Thomas Lynch, were South Carolina's delegates. The convention drafted a series of resolutions explaining why they were opposed to the Stamp Act and sent them to London (Commons House Journal, 1765, 12). Gadsden’s ire against the Stamp Act, for what he considered its violation of the rights of Englishmen, wrote that "with my Life I desire to be ready to sacrifice at a Moment’s Warning on the Altar of Liberty & in the Cause of my Country, my highest Ambition is to be found doing my Duty let my Master call at Midnight or at what Hour he please" (Weir 173).

The showdown did not lead to martyrdom. English merchants opposed the Stamp Act because the subsequent colonial boycott of British manufactures had impaired intercontinental trade. Persuaded, Parliament acquiesced and repealed the hated tax, but reasserted its power to tax the colonies in the Declaratory Act, which went largely unnoticed in the jubilation of the stamp tax’s demise. Charleston celebrated the good news, and Gadsden and his artillery participated in the festivities (SC Gazette). The vigilant patriot, however, did not see his work done, and at a 1766 Fall meeting of the Sons of Liberty, Gadsden "delivered to them an address, stating their rights, and encouraging them to defend them against all foreign taxation" (Gibbes 11).

Gadsden continued to serve in the Assembly until the Revolution. A member of the First Provincial and Second Provincial Congresses of South Carolina (1775-1776), the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia (1774-1776), and the state's new General Assembly (1776-1780), he also served as the second leading politician - Vice President (1778-1779) and Lieutenant Governor (1780-82). It was during his term in the latter that the British captured Charleston and exiled Gadsden to St. Augustine, despite granting him parole when the city surrendered. Rather than accept another parole in St. Augustine when the British had already violated their word concerning the first one, Gadsden spent ten months in the dungeon of San Marcos where the soldiers treated him well despite a few nights without light. He made good use of his time learning Hebrew, an indication of the academic nature of his Christian faith (Gadsden 170-171; Porcher 10). When he died he had 188 volumes of Latin, Greek, and Hebrew texts valued at $564 (Inventory 366), and it is perhaps his extensive knowledge that prompted Silas Deane, a fellow member of the Continental Congress, to describe him as “one of the most regularly, religious Men I ever met with” (Smith 135).

After a prisoner exchange between Nathaniel Greene and Lord Cornwallis led to Gadsden's freedom and subsequent shipment to Philadelphia, Gadsden returned to his state where the Assembly elected him the new governor. Citing old age, Gadsden declined, but he did not completely disappear from the world of politics. He served another term in the Assembly (Edgar 262), voted in the state convention that ratified the U.S. Constitution, contributed to the creation of the state’s 1790 constitution (Porcher 11), and served as an elector for John Adams in the presidential election of 1800 (Edgar 262). In between these stints in politics, Gadsden focused mainly on his private life. In 1805, the aged patriot died from a fall in his Charleston house and was buried with much fanfare and public displays of mourning in an unmarked grave in the cemetery of St. Philip’s (Charleston Mercury).

What follows is a unit of lessons centered around eight primary and two secondary sources on Gadsden's life. A full biography and a memorial speech excerpt on his later life are the two secondary sources. The primary ones include letters, newspaper articles, a will, and an inventory of his goods and financial assets. The primary objectives of these lessons are for students to learn how to take notes from sources without plagiarizing and turn the information into an accurate and well-documented biography interesting to read.


  Primary Sources
  Charleston Courier, August 31, 1805. Available at the South Caroliniana Library.
  Commons House Journal, October 28, 1765 – May 28, 1767. No. 37. Part I. p 12. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia.
  Gadsden, Christopher. "To General Washington." 10 August 1781. The Writings of Christopher Gadsden 1746-1805. Ed. Richard Walsh. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1966. 169-171. Available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  Gibbes, R.W. Documentary History of the American Revolution: Consisting of Letters & Papers Relating to the Contest for Liberty, Chiefly in South Carolina, From Originals in the Possession of the Editor, and Other Sources, 1764-1776. Vol. 1. 1855. Spartanburg, SC: Reprint Company, 1972. Available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  Inventories D 1800-1810. Charleston County, SC: 366-367. Available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  Smith, Paul H., ed. Letters of Delegates to Congress: August 1774 – August 1775. Vol. 1. Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1976. Available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  South Carolina Gazette, June 2-9, 1766. Available at the South Caroliniana Library.
  “Soame Jenyns, The Objections to the Taxation of our American Colonies by the Legislature of Great Britain, briefly consider’d.”  The American Revolution. Ed. George M. Welling. 26 January 2004. Available at: http://www.ukans.edu/carrie/docs/texts/objectio.htm.
  “The Stamp Act.” The Patriot Resource: History, American Revolutionary Era: 1775-1783. Ed. Scott Cummings. 2004. Available at:        http://www.patriotresource.com/documents/stampact.html.
  Weir, Robert M. “Two Letters by Christopher Gadsden, February 1766.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 75 (July 1974): 169-176. The excerpt from above can be found on pp. 170-173. Available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  Wills of Charleston County, SC 1671-1868. Vol. 30 (1800-1807): 869-873. South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  Secondary Sources
  Divine, Robert A., T. H. Breen, George Fredrickson, and R. Hall Williams. The American Story. New York: Longman, 2002.
  Crouse, Maurice A. “Cautious Rebellion: South Carolina’s Opposition to the Stamp Act.” South Carolina Historical Magazine 73 (1972): 59-71.
  Edgar, Walter B., ed. Biographical Directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives: The Commons House of Assembly 1692-1775. Vol. 2. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press, 1977. Available at the South Carolina Department of Archives and History.
  Godbold, Jr., E. Stanly and Robert H. Woody. Christopher Gadsden and the American Revolution. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 1982.
  Porcher, F. A. A Memoir of Gen. Christopher Gadsden, Read Before the South Carolina Historical Society. Charleston, SC, 1878. Available at the South Caroliniana Library
  Savelle, Max and Robert Middlekauff. A History of Colonial America. Revised ed. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1964.
  Student Handout #1: The Crafting of a Biography
  Student Handout #2: Researching
  Student Handout #3 The Planning and Writing of a Biography

Lesson Plans

Go over this biography project by passing out Student Handout #1: The Crafting of a Biography. Explain that sources will be provided, notes taken, pre-writes formulated, and rough/final drafts written.

Lesson 1 - Researching to Write

Begin by brainstorming characteristics of good notes and effective methods to take good notes. Then pass out Student Handout #2: Researching to Write and go over each part - Reading to Research a Historical Topic, Note-taking Rule Guide, and Note-Taking RubricOver a period time to be determined by the teacher, students will read and take notes on ten sources on Christopher Gadsden. They are listed in the table of Student Handout #1. One point about these sources: the letter “s” often appears as an “f” in the original documents but appears as an “s” in these transcriptions. These notes and their ultimate point values can be adjusted to fit the teachers needs. Conferencing with students on an individual basis for the first few sources is recommended to make sure that they are understanding how to take notes. The teacher may want to do part of the first source together as a class to evaluate their skills.
Lesson 2 - Getting Organized to Write a Biography

Pass out Student Handout #3 The Planning and Writing of a Biography and examine the first section entitled "Getting Organized to Write a Biography."  The students will pick one area of Gadsden’s life to complete a pre-write using their sources. These topics are:
  • Early life and familyPersonal interests, personality, and non-political careerPolitical career
  • Later life
Lesson 3 - Writing the Biography Itself

Have students read and go over the rest of Student Handout #3: The Planning and Writing of a Biography.

Students will have time to work on their rough drafts with the teacher helping with any difficulties, including the process of documentation. Their final drafts will include 2-3 pages along with a “Works Cited” page.

Teacher Reflections

The Cultural Institutions and Their Impact on my Teaching

One of the major focuses of the TAH class was to link teachers with cultural sites such as museums, the State Archives, and historical sites. The use of cultural institutions forms an important component in my curriculum. Each year I take my students to Williamsburg, VA, Washington, D.C., and Charleston. Because of the limited number of days students can be away from school, even for "academic" trips, and the fact that the three trips alluded to above take up nine days, day trips to local sites are not a feasible option. However, there are other ways that I have and will forge a relationship with local institutions, especially the State Archives, the South Caroliana Library, and the State Museum. Of the ten sources that my students used in writing their Gadsden biographies, eight of them are housed at the State Archives. The South Caroliana Library is the source of the remaining two - the Charleston Courier article and the excerpt from Porcher's address. In addition to documents from cultural institutions, I want to get students to visit some of the sites themselves. For example, I am pondering the possibility of requiring students to schedule a trip to the State Museum with friends or family and complete a study guide that focuses not only on content, but also requires reflection and evaluation of the museum's coverage of South Carolina history.

Student Work

Curriculum development must ultimately prove its value in student learning. Teaching students how historians use different sources to weave a story of the past without committing plagiarism was a major objective of these lessons. Much of student plagiarism is unintentional, and usually can be traced to poor note-taking skills. My goal was to help them read a source and write down the important information in their own words using short phrases, symbols, and spacing. The result was that when they wrote their draft, they analyzed and explained the information in their own words because they were not reading off the source itself as they wrote.

Students' note-taking skills fall into four major categories. First, some students take very few notes either writing just some information or broad summaries of the source. The second problem some students have is taking pretty detailed notes, but lacking the specific details needed to support inferences. Student #2 exemplifies this problem. She says that Gadsden "knows Latin, Hebrew, and Greek" and that he owns a rice plantation (good inferences and details), but fails to explain what in his inventory led to these conclusions. A cursory glance at the original source, which follows the student work, shows that he owned 188 volumes of language books and 188 barrels of rice. The third category of note-taking problems is in sounding too much like the source; this can be an outright case of plagiarism or an inadvertent one. Finally, the fourth category of note-taking skills results in detailed notes with reasoned inferences and written in the student's own words. Student #4's notes on Gadsden's will are quite detailed and includes well-supported inferences. For example, she concludes that "Gadsden is forward-thinking . . . he did not want his estate divided until seven years after his death, so that the estates could earn money for people he wants to give this money to." This is a good inference based upon specific facts culled from the will.

I have also included two student biographies of Gadsden. Student #5's biography is detailed and written in her own words. Her inferences that Gadsden's will reveals a special devotion to his female relatives because of his generous provision for them shows that she has moved beyond simple factual presentation and has ascended into the higher levels of critical thinking. The second biography, written by Student #6, is another good example of incorporating research in his own words. It falls short in covering the topic thoroughly in that he neglects to discuss Gadsden's non-political career in much detail. However, these two biographies do indicate that students have begun to grasp how history is written. I shall see once I have read the rest of their biographies.

Overall, this project did improve student mastery of note-taking and writing. There is room for improvement as can be seen in the above discussion, but the students did get a sense of what historians do and it is an experience that I plan to capitalize on and develop further in the future.

Future Growth

Professional growth results from an honest evaluation of past performance and a consequent plan to improve. As a perfectionist, I am all too aware of ways in which I need to improve my instruction, but I would be remiss it I did not extol the positive aspects of these lessons. The documents have been well-edited with explanatory notes and provide both the relevant factual information on Gadsden's life, but also offer insight into the fiery passion of this ardent Patriot. My requirement for students to redo poorly-done notes helped some better understand and develop this important skill. Finally, these lessons really gave students an understanding of how history is written.

After teaching a series of lessons for the first time, a plethora of ways to improve them next time suggested themselves. First of all, our schedule worked out that I taught these lessons after we had covered the American Revolution, but before we did a flashback unit entitled "Colonial Carolina." Consequently, students were confused over the Cherokee campaigns of the 1760s and the Commons House of Assembly. Next time, I plan to fit this background unit in before the Gadsden project. I plan to substantively revise these lessons by including copies of portraits of Gadsden, maps of Charleston showing his properties and wharf, and some primary sources related to his career as a general including his dispute with the Continental General Howe on the issue of control of the state's militia.

In addition to including cultural institutions in Williamsburg, Washington, D.C., and Charleston, I could expand involvement with local sites. I have already alluded to how I could incorporate more of the local cultural institutions by assigning an independent trip to the State Museum. However, I could take this idea further. In our program, we require students to attend a cultural event each quarter. What better cultural events could there be than a trip to the houses of Robert Mills or Woodrow Wilson? The possibilities are vast. The great thing about the TAH Institute is its mission to train teachers in ways to facilitate their students' education in the process of history.

Student Assessment

  • Notes on the ten sources – quality evaluated – see rubric on Student Handout #1
  • Pre-write and Rough Draft could be checked off for completion
  • Final Draft will be evaluated using the Biography Rubric

Examples of Students Work

Student Work Example #2
Student Work Example #4
Student Work Example #5
Student Work Example #6


Tim Hicks
Dent Middle School, South Carolina