Early American Trade with China

Trade Routes & Trading Strategies

Economics of the China Trade

Contrasting Views of Trade

Life on a Merchant Ship


Lesson Overview

TEACHING TIME: One 50-minute class period


  • Students will be able to describe a clipper ship and deduce some of the difficulties involved with this form of transportation.
  • Students will use primary sources to gain a deeper understanding of the hardships sailors faced.


Adapting the Lesson for Middle School

The activities in this lesson are especially appropriate for middle school students. Although some of the reading may be difficult because of the antiquated language, the ideas are easy to grasp. An annotated bibliography of reference materials is included to encourage teachers to make this an inquiry-based lesson and to help students pursue independent research or prepare group projects. The introductory activity can be used as a starting point for an inquiry-based lesson.

Much of the material taught in this lesson can be elicited from the students themselves through questions and discussion, since the details of life on board a clipper ship follow naturally from the physical restraints and requirements of the sailing ship.

The first extension activity in Lesson 1 (The China Trade) which involves looking at the logs of a number of clipper ships is an appropriate activity for middle school students that combines a geography lesson with primary source material about ships and trade. The logs from these ships include incidents that highlight some of the issues discussed in this lesson, such as discipline on board ships and the hazards of working at sea.

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