Lesson Plan: Overview

The Trading Post with the Most: Colonial Dorchester's Settlement and Economy

Grade Level: 8th

Plan of Dorchester, 1742, click here to see document.

Academic Standards

Standard 8-1:  The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of South Carolina and the United States by Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

8-1.3  Summarize the history of European settlement in Carolina from the first attempts the settle at San Miguel de Gualdape, Charlesfort, San Felipe, and Albemarle Point to the time of South Carolina’s establishment as an economically important British colony, including the diverse origins of the settlers, the early government, the importance of the plantation system and slavery, and the impact of the natural environment on the development of the colony.

Historical Background Notes

During the time of European exploration and colonization, land in the New World was claimed by the kings and queens of Europe, and then given or sold to settlers.  For the English, two nuclei sprouted outgrowth at Jamestown and Massachusetts Bay.  The northern region was populated by religious pilgrims who sought refuge from persecution in England.  One such group known as Dissenters (Congregationalists) lived in an area of Massachusetts called Dorchester (Bell 1995, 1).  There were Dissenters living in other places in the English colonies as well, and South Carolina was one of them.  The Dissenters from Dorchester decided to move to South Carolina and arrived in the spot that they selected while quartering with local Dissenters in February 1696 (Bell 1995, 2).  The Dissenters had been given the land by the colonial government, who added 2,250 acres to property that it had procured from John Smith’s estate after he died with no heirs (Stevenson 1975, 32). They named the site Dorchester, and it was located on the Ashley River close to Charles Town. 

The town's leaders, headed by Pastor Joseph Lord, positioned the details of the town's layout carefully according to what they were familiar with, thereby creating a replica of a New England village (Bell 1995, 2).  The families participated in a lottery to decide who got which lot (Bell 1995, 2).  There were areas set aside for the entire community's needs, like a market and a wharf for shipping (Stevenson 1975, 33).  The design allowed for convenient trade to occur and led to a bustling Dorchester, whose location at the "frontier" of the South Carolina colony made it an optimum site for the lucrative deerskin trade (Bell 1995, 5).  With barter utilizing items as currency, one gun from a European equaled 16 pounds of "finely dressed" deerskins; and, four pounds of bullets equaled one pound of deerskin.  A common boat that the colonists at Dorchester used for trade was called a periagua.  It could carry 500 to 700 deerskins when rowed by 7 or 8 slaves (Bell 1995, 5).  The success of Dorchester can be highly attributed to its careful design and location on the Ashley river; "the commerce that moved up and down the river from the trade with the Indians and the nearby plantations ensured the village's economic health through most of the 1700s" (Bell 1988, 8).

The economy was not totally based on the deerskin trade.  In addition to it, colonists and their slaves produced naval stores from the local forests to be shipped to England (Bell 1995, 6).  Rice cultivation became economically substantial which led to the increase of slavery and the number of Africans living in Dorchester (Bell 1995, 6).  By 1741 (remember the village was started in 1696), the population of the entire parish that Dorchester was located in was divided with 3,347 slaves and only 468 whites (Bell 1995, 7).  Records indicate that the slaves protested their subjugation by running away and poisoning their owners or overseers (Bell 1995, 7).  The rice economy also led to negative environmental changes, because the conditions required to grow it increased the chances of diseases like malaria and typhoid fever (Stevenson 1975, 34). 

The Dissenters' population grew regardless, and with each generation the need for large tracts of land to grow rice on led to the group's decision to relocate to Georgia, where the land was not worn out and there was enough for everyone (Stevenson 1975, 34).  They had not been the only group in the Dorchester area, though.  In 1706, the Anglican (rivals to the Dissenters) dominated government and passed the Church Act which established ten parishes for the South Carolina colony.  Dorchester was in what became St. George's Parish, where an Anglican church was constructed funded by tax dollars (Bell 1995, 3).  Thus, when the Dissenters finally migrated to Georgia, the heavily Anglican populated settlement survived (Stevenson 1975, 35).

Colonial Dorchester remained a vital part of South Carolina.  The Governor had a powder magazine and surrounding wall built in 1760 in response to the French threat by water (Stevenson 1975, 35).  As the Revolutionary war approached and transpired, Dorchester was ravaged by the demands and effects of the fighting (Stevenson, 1975, 36).  The British occupied the desirable fortification; and, it was also held and used by the Patriots and Francis Marion in 1775 (Stevenson 1975, 35).

The Revolutionary War took its toll on the village, and Dorchester never recovered (Bell 1995, 21).  In some cases, the buildings that still were livable after the war were taken apart brick by brick and the materials reused in other building projects in the Charleston area (Bell 1995, 23).  The land was bought up and combined into one large plantation which was sold to a lumber company in the early 1900s (Bell 1995, 24).  There were still a few deteriorated pieces of buildings and the wharf left, and people started taking interest in preserving the land for its historical significance as a possible archeological site.  It was acquired by the state in the early 1960s (Bell 1995, 24).  The Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of South Carolina started excavation in 1972 (Stevenson 1975, 30). 

If you go to the site today, you would see a large park with few buildings and no businesses.  The land has not been developed and remains a treasure trove of artifacts that help to paint the picture of what life was like in Colonial Dorchester.  You can see parts of the Anglican church, wharf, and there are active excavations going on that you can participate in as a visitor.  Along with the records kept by the original inhabitants and newspaper articles, the archeological work creates a better understanding of the history of Colonial Dorchester.


Primary Sources

Inventory of Walter Izard, 3 January 1750.  Volume B, 375-377.  Secretary of State.  Recorded Instruments. Inventories of Estates, 1736-1774. S213032.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Plan of Dorchester, 1742.  MB 9-17.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina. See the Virtual Tour of Dorchester, a website based on the 1742 Plan, for more information.

"To Be Sold." South Carolina Gazette, 25 October – 1 November, 1735.  Newspaper on Microfilm.  South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, South Carolina.

Secondary Sources

Bell, Daniel J.  Old Dorchester State Park:  Visitor's Guide.  South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism, State Park System, 1995.

Bell, Daniel, J.  "The Reconstruction of the Town of Dorchester."  Carologue  (Winter 1988): 8.

Stevenson, Foy.  "The Rediscovery of Old Dorchester."  South Carolina Magazine (August 1975): 30-7.

Horne, Paul, and Patricia Klein. South Carolina:  The History of an American State. Atlanta: Clairmont Press, 2000.


Lesson Plans

1. Start class by writing the two essential questions on the board:
  • Why was Dorchester a successful settlement, and who settled it?
  • How did the natural environment impact the development of the colony?
2. Students should get textbooks out and open to page 104. Reciprocal read aloud for section called “Building an Economy:”
  • Teacher can choose a student to read or the students can take turns reading out loud.
  • After each paragraph, ask the reader to make up a question from it. 
  • The student will pose a question and call on another student to answer it.
  • Then, ask the reader what he/she thinks will happen next.
  • Ask students to find any unfamiliar words.
  • Teacher should write those words on the board and define them verbally.
  • Repeat throughout the section.

3. Transition:  "Let’s look at an example of a colonial settlement."

4.Activity:  Datadisks

  • Distribute items needed for datadisk assembly (stencil sheet, two pieces of heavy paper, brad, glue, and scissors).
  • Tell students to glue the entire paper stencil to the first piece of construction paper or whatever you are using as "heavy" paper.
  • Cut out the perimeter of the circle.
  • Throw away the scraps.
  • Trace your circle on the second piece of paper.
  • Cut out that circle.
  • First circle – cut along the dotted lines to remove the question and answer sections.
  • Lay the first circle with the cut-out sections on the second circle.
  • Punch the brad through and fasten.
  • Write each essential question on the datadisk by rotating the top circle.  The students should not write any answers yet.
  • Set the datadisk aside.

5. Transition:  "We are going to look at some actual papers from back then.  When you look at things that were around during the time period that you're studying, you are using primary resources.  Let's try to answer some of our questions.” "

6. Distribute copies of Clapp ad (Primary Resource #1).

7. Class discussion:  Guided by the following questions, the teacher will lead the class in an analysis of the ad.

  • What is the man trying to sell?
  • Why does he want to sell?
  • Do you think that think it indicates a bustling economy?

8. Teacher should read the historical background notes to the students or paraphrase them depending on grade level and the teacher's preference.  The students should be familiarized with the history of the settlement. 

9. "Now that you have heard about the village, let’s look at an old map of it."

10. When all students have had time to respond, go over the answers as a group by asking a student to read question number one and their answer.  Ask for additional students' answers to help the discussion.  Repeat for the other questions.

11. "To help us answer our datadisk questions further, let's look at a list of what one of the families who lived in Dorchester owned."

  • Distribute copies of the Inventory of Walter Izard (Primary Resource #3).
  • Answer the questions from the worksheet as a whole group.
12. Closing – students should get in pairs (study buddies):
  • Students should get their datadisks.
  • Ask students to write everything that they remember from the story of Dorchester on the white part of the disk by making it a spider-web.  Model the expectation by drawing an oval on the board like the one on the datadisk.  Then, putting a couple lines off of it with some ideas.  For example,
    • deerskin trade
    • Dissenters
    • rice
  • Lastly, students should answer the 3 questions on the Discussion Questions sheet.

Teacher Reflections

The methods instruction gave me the confidence to use a variety of student-centered approaches instead of worksheets. The student work included in the portfolio illustrates effective instruction.  The evidence is in the responses that the students gave to questions posed.  Good examples are included with mediocre samples so that you can see the areas that typical students struggle with.  Along with knowing more choices for field trips, I want to use more primary resources.  Unless I already have been provided with primary resources (Jackdaws, for example), I simply forget to or shrug off finding primary documents.  I want to incorporate them more, though, because they make the history come alive; and, they naturally allow for more critical thinking activities for students. 

Student Assessment

The students will turn in their datadisks.  The datadisks will be evaluated for content and ideas according to the following rubric:

10 points All 3 questions are answered
  Answers reflect an accurate analysis of the primary resources.
  Writing is legible.
  At least 5 ideas are expressed on the web.
9 points All 3 questions are answered.
  Answers reflect a close analysis of the primary resources.
  Writing is legible.
  At least 4 ideas are expressed on the web.
8 points All 3 questions are answered.
  Answers reflect some analysis of the primary resources.
  Writing is mostly legible.
  At least 3 ideas are expressed on the web.
7 points 2 questions are answered.
  Answers reflect analysis of the primary resources.
  Writing is somewhat legible
  At least 2 ideas are expressed on the web.

2. Any datadisk that does not meet the above criteria will not be graded.  They should be returned to the student for extra help and extended time on task.  Students who fail to turn in a re-try will be referred to the office. 

Examples of Students Work


Laura Wamsley
McClellanville Middle, South Carolina