Primary Source Activity: Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook and Ledger

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Grade and Level: United States and Virginia History Grade 8 - 11

Instructional Time: Flexible, at least 30 minutes but can be expanded into larger project.

Essential Learning: Students will practice analyzing primary sources to learn about life before, during and after the Civil War. In so doing, students will observe and synthesize different groups within society, including slaves, free blacks, soldiers, merchants, shop keepers, farmers, among others.

Essential Question: How do primary source documents inform us about events in the past?

Classroom Organization: Computer Lab with Internet; Copies of Biography Chart and Conclusions Sheet.

Materials and Resources: Computers, Copies of Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook Background Sheet and Biography Chart


Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook Background Sheet

Biography Chart

Website for Assignment:

Description: Richard Manning Bucktrout's "Daybook and Ledger" tracks the daily activities of an important Williamsburg businessman in the 16 years before, during and after the Civil War. Starting in 1850, the Daybook offers an intriguing glimpse into the daily lives (and deaths) of Williamsburg's citizens.

Standards, Benchmarks and Indicators Objectives

National Standards for History

Standard 3: The Student engages in historical analysis and interpretation. Standard 4: The student conducts historical research.

Era 5: Civil War and Reconstruction (1850 - 1877)

Virginia Standards, Benchmarks and Indicators

Standard VUS.6 e) The student will demonstrate knowledge of the major events during the first half of the nineteenth century by e) describing the cultural, economic, and political issues that divided the nation including...slavery

Standard VUS.7 The student will demonstrate knowledge of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era and its importance as a major turning point in American history


1. Begin this assignment with a brief review/ presentation on primary and secondary sources. Suggestion: Free Write - List Primary Sources that a future historian might find from the student's life, or create two lists of examples of primary and secondary sources.

Remember: To explain the difference between primary and secondary sources, ask students when historians might use each type of source. Introduce the idea of bias in sources, ask students how the speaker, occasion, audience, purpose, subject, or tone might change the meaning of the document.

2. After reviewing primary sources, have the class read the Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook Background Sheet together. You might want to quickly review the antebellum and Civil War eras, particularly thinking about how this local business man might be affected, and how this primary source might reveal more about the community and its divisions.

3. To the computer lab! Instruct students to log onto the Digital Archives Richard Manning Bucktrout Daybook and Ledger, *

4. Once students have accessed the website, they can click on the “Preface” or “Historical Narrative” for more details about Bucktrout and his business. Instruct students to click on the “Name Index.” Distribute the Biography Chart, and have students click on the first letter of their last name. (For most letters, there are a number of entries, if not, have them select another letter). Pick one name from this list, and click on the page number to access the full description. Instruct students to complete the first box in the Biography Chart using the description from the ledger.

5. Once they have complete the first entry, students should find 4 different occupations or descriptions to read and analyze. You might suggest that students include a freed black, slave, soldier, teacher, shopkeeper, farmer, or women for variety. Once they have read each ledger entry, students enter their summary and analysis into the Biography Chart.


Assessment Criteria: