Early American Trade with China

Trade Routes & Trading Strategies

Economics of the China Trade

Contrasting Views of Trade

Life on a Merchant Ship


Imagining Life On A Clipper Ship

Ask students to imagine living in an area the size of two classrooms for 200-300 days (about the length of the school year) with the same group of 50 or so people. Imagine not being able to leave to take a walk or to visit friends. Imagine having several bosses living with you would could tell you what work to do day and night, and who could punish you by putting you in chains or whipping you if you did not comply. What sorts of people would be willing to take a job like this?

Provide students with some pictures of clipper ships to study and ask the following questions.


  • What kinds of work would be necessary on board a clipper ship?

  • What specific craftsmen would you want to have on board for a long voyage?

  • What kinds of problems do you think would have occurred as a result of this living situation?

  • Why would a ship’s captain believe it was so important to keep good discipline among his crew? Why were seamen put in chains or otherwise punished for refusing to work?

  • What supplies would have to be carried on board the ship in addition to the cargo?

  • What could crew men do for entertainment?

  • What do you think the seamen felt about their work? What do you think they liked about their job? What wouldn’t they have liked?

If enough resources can be provided for students, teachers may want to have students work in groups to answer these questions. Library books, reference books, and web sites can provide a class with pictures of clipper ships to serve as a visual aid in considering the above questions. These sources are listed in the bibliography.


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