Stringing, Carting, and Churning: Division II Gets Hands-On with Colonial New England

By 8th graders Grace and Zayna

Have you ever wanted to churn butter? Well, we did…and we got the chance to do just that on a recent field trip to Deerfield, Massachusetts. Throughout this trimester, Division 2  has been learning about how and why people organize themselves in society. We began by reading Lord of The Flies and discussing how human nature affects our behavior in groups. We then moved on to how people have organized themselves in the past. To do this, we investigated and analyzed many aspects of colonial America. We examined passages from various sources, such as These Truths by historian Jill Lepore. These Truths digs into the background of colonial America and how writing shapes our history. When someone has the ability to write, they also have the ability to write history and shape perceptions of the past. One of the specific events we zoomed in on was the Deerfield Raid. Learning about this raid gave us an opportunity to look at the history of colonial America from many different perspectives, giving our class a more complete image of life in this time period. However, we did not only read about colonial America – we experienced it. With our knowledge of the Deerfield Raid, we boarded a van and headed off to Deerfield to live like colonists for a day.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Deerfield was climb Mt. Sugarloaf. When we reached the summit and looked out onto the land below, we were given perspective on the area around us. We then hiked back down and made the final leg of our journey to Deerfield. We had a little bit of time to explore the area prior to starting our colonial experience, which meant wandering in spooky graveyards in the October chill, which was definitely a lot of fun. Before we began working, we dressed up in period clothing to embody the persona of the colonist. Seeing everyone in their heavy layers of clothing – vests, skirts, knickers, and bonnets – was one of the most fun aspects of the trip. After we all got decked out, we began some traditional chores. Half of us prepared dinner while the other half were taught chores such as carting wool, stringing pumpkins, and, yes…churning butter. Halfway through these tasks, we switched so everyone could experience each activity. As we learned, cooking on a colonial stove is trickier than it looks! But in the end, eating by candlelight in true colonial fashion and laughing around the table made it all worth it.

When nighttime rolled around, we were told a narrative by our group leader. The story was from the perspective of a colonist captive during the Raid. In the candlelit room, with the wind seeping in, the narrative was only enhanced by the somewhat eerie atmosphere. The next morning, we were told the same story from a new perspective: that of a Native American. At the very end of the day, our group was given one last task: to tell stories ourselves. We acted out tales using our bodies and voices to change the mood of the story. The next morning, we talked to David Brule, a Native American history researcher, and learned about other perspectives during the Deerfield Raid. When we returned, we got to work on our own stories and decided which we will research and tell. We were all very tired from such an exciting trip, but it was truly an experience we will never forget!