Teacher’s Guide to Comet, Earthquake and Fire Canoe


Welcome to the teacher’s guide to the Tennessee History for Kids booklet Comet, Earthquake and Fire Canoe.

Rather than buying a single classroom set, please consider buying one for every student. We sell these booklets for $2.50 and print them on non-glossy paper because we want students to write in their booklets and keep them.

Please do NOT copy the booklets. That is a violation of our copyright and makes it difficult for our organization to exist. The reason we sell them for only $2 is so teachers will not be tempted to copy the booklets.

If you would like the answers to the questions that appear in this booklets, email Bill Carey at bill@tnhistoryforkids.org.


Chapter One: Sliced Up Snake


The purpose of this booklet is to encourage fourth graders to read and be interested in early American history. There are times when I have to try to explain something very complicated in short order, and my chapter on “Sliced Up Snake Changes the World” is a perfect example of this.

In the previous social studies standards, fourth graders were supposed to read an excerpt from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. We did away with that requirement, but I will mention that students can still read it, and may enjoy reading the parts about this time in American history. Click on this link, and scroll down in the file to chapter 14 (roman number XIV).

Speaking of primary sources, check out the article on the left. It was published in the August 11, 1814, New York Columbian newspaper. In the article, the author (who is not identified) recalls the use of the “Join or Die” phrase as a rallying cause during the American Revolution.


Chapter Two: First Casualty


I have to admit that I’d never heard of Christopher Seider before I started researching for topics to write about in this booklet. Once I’d discovered this story, I was surprised to find out that there are no books about him, even for young students.

For now, I will make reference to the newspaper article published in the March 29, 1770, Maryland Gazette about the circumstances of his death, on the right and left.

Now… having said that, you can find a lot on the internet about the Granary Burying Ground. If you do an internet search, you will find detailed information about the place, including video tours of the cemetery.


Chapter Three: Betsy or Rebecca


On the right you will see a typical story about the Betsy Ross legend, published in the February 18, 1923, Cincinnati Enquirer.

The folks at the Official Betsy Ross House in Philadelphia have a virtual field trip in which you and your students can participate. Click here to learn more about this.

It’s been suggested to me by a teacher that students turn this chapter into an art project, and they create a flag of their own, either similar to the one Betsy Ross may or may not have made, or completely different. I think that’s a pretty good idea!


Chapter Four: Bones Washed Ashore


I’m happy to say that in recent years, more attention has been paid to the fact that so many Americans died on prison ships during the Revolutionary War. Here (on the left) is an article published in May 2021 about the subject.

There’s a lot of information about the Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument on its wikipedia page.

For more information about Andrew Jackson’s background, click here for a tour “In Search of Andrew Jackson.”


Chapter Five: Unpaid War Hero


There are a few towns on the Massachusetts map that are mentioned in this story. Click on this map (on the right) to find them.

A few years ago, a high school science teacher in Cambridge, New York, named Steven Butz helped locate the site of the settlement on Egg Mountain where Daniel Shays and his followers lived for about two years. This remarkable teacher and his students were the subject of many newspaper stories as well as an item on Vermont Public Radio. Click here to be taken to his website, and here for the public radio story.


Chapter Six: Man Who Blew Things Up


On the right, is a more complete version of the newspaper article that appears on page 30. This version, shown here, appeared in the Vermont Weekly Wanderer. If you click on it and go through it with your students, they might enjoy the language.

After all, you don’t often read articles in the newspaper today that refer to something being “torn to atoms.” What’s curious about this language is that the actual atom was being discovered at about this time. So apparently the word “atom” — meaning small bits — predated the discovery of the real atom. Go figure.

Students will also find the advertisement on the left interesting for two reasons: One, it contains a drawing of what the steamboat looked like; and two, it clearly states that Fulton’s three steamboats were called the North River, the Car of Neptune, and the Paragon. Ads such as this one have proved conclusively that Fulton’s first steamboat was never known as the Clermont, as so many books  claim.


Chapter Seven: Comet, Earthquake and Fire Canoe


1805 Library of Congress map

Interesting back story: As I came up with ideas for the stories in this booklet, I wrote down about 20 concepts– 10 of which I used, 10 of which I rejected after I’d researched the topic, and 4 of which I found later. The chapter about the journey of the steamboat New Orleans, wasn’t supposed to be any longer than the others. But as I read accounts of this journey while I was sitting in my tent at boy scout camp in December 2021, I became riveted by this story, and thought fourth graders would be as well. So I decided to make it three times longer than the others, and to use its title as the booklet title.

1805 Library of Congress Map

Maps are better when they are large. Click on the ones on the right and left to show them to your students.

Click here for a tour “In Search of the New Madrid Earthquakes” on the Tennessee History for Kids website.

Click here to check out the Falls of the Ohio State Park. The next time you visit Louisville, Kentucky, I recommend you explore it!

Were it not for John H.B. Latrobe, brother in law of Nicholas Roosevelt, we wouldn’t know nearly as much detail about this journey. In 1871 he presented a paper to the Maryland Historical Society about the voyage of the New Orleans. This paper is in the public domain, and the folks at Louisiana Tech have put it on the internet here.

Finally, I need to credit artist Gary Lucy with his incredible painting on pages 36 and 37. I’m not sure if the chapter works without it.


Chapter Eight: Victory of the Dirty Shirts


This is the only chapter in this booklet that contains material similar to content found on the Tennessee History for Kids website, as you will see when you click here.

Also, click here for the official website of Chalmette Battlefield.

I need to go back to Chalmette. The only time I went there was around 2008, when the area was still recovering from Hurricane Katrina. At that time many of the houses in the residential areas near the battlefield were still abandoned and in shambles.

I also need to go back to Chalmette so I can have lunch again at Rocky and Carlo’s restaurant, but that’s another story.


Nashville Daily Union, March 6, 1848

Chapter Nine: Brittainia in Boston


Since this chapter starts with a newspaper article, I’ve posted in here, on the right. It took me about half a day to find it!

The B&O Railroad Museum

Interesting back story: When you visit a really cool place, you never know what you’ll find. There are two chapters in this book that came out of a trip I took in October 2021 to the B&O Railroad Museum in Baltimore. This is one of them, and the other is the one about time zones (Chapter 14).

Yes, I toyed with the idea of doing a story about the B&O Railroad, but I decided that the telegraph and time zones were enough for the booklet. But click here for a TN History for Kids virtual tour of the B&O Railroad Museum.


Chapter 10: Like Gold Through the Trees


William Cheney photographer

This chapter and the one that follows it cover very complex subjects. Those of you who are experts on Harriet Tubman will have to forgive me for oversimplifying at times. (For instance, I did not go into the whole saga or her relationship with her husband, who was a free African-American, and how on one her trips back to Maryland she discovered that he has moved on to someone else.) There are times when I rule on the side of oversimplifying history in order to make it interesting for fourth graders.

There’s something about the photo on page 62 that made me stare at the people in it, and for some time. Something about the way Harriet Tubman in her family are dressed, and are posed, that made me realize that nothing in my life is similar to their lives. Your students may feel the same way.


Chapter 11: Tombstone with Pennies on Top

The back side of Dred Scott’s tombstone


Again, a lot of very complicated stuff oversimplified here.

In case you are wondering, it wasn’t my intention to go into so much detail about John Sanford. But as it turns out, the fourth grade social studies standards specifically list the case as Scott v. Sandford, so I felt like I had to explain the connection to John Sanford and the bizarre misspelling by the clerk of the U.S. Supreme Court.

Interesting back story: I really did get lost in Calvary Cemetery, and it really did take me forever to find Dred Scott’s grave!


Chapter 12: Tennessee’s Bloodiest Battle


I recommend highly that every student in Tennessee visits Shiloh National Military Park at least once. Click here for a Tennessee History for Kids-style virtual tour the place.

Library of Congress photo

The photo on the right (and which appears on page 71) is really something. Scholars have told me that this photo was only recently discovered, which is why it hasn’t appeared in books about the battlefield until recently. If you look closely, you will get some idea of what a mess the place was, and maybe some idea of the chaos of the battlefield. Click on it to blow it up.


John Wesley Powell, the “one armed explorer” mentioned on page 74, is the subject of a wonderful graphic novel by the talented artist Nathan Hale. Shown on the left, I highly recommend it.


Chapter 13: Attempted Escape of the Famous Actor


The central event is this chapter is one the most studied events in American history. Even the detail on the wikipedia page for the “Assassination of Abraham Lincoln,” is staggering. An excerpt: “The bullet entered Lincoln’s skull behind his left ear, passed through his brain, and came to rest near the front of the skull after fracturing both orbital plates.” So if you have students who really want to learn more about Lincoln’s assassination, there’s plenty to find!

Library of Congress collection

On page 77, I point out that Booth attended Lincoln’s second inaugural, and it was there that he realized it would easier to killed the president than kidnap him. On the right you will see a famous image, taken by photographer Alexander Gardner, of Lincoln’s second inaugural address. You can see where Booth was standing compared to Lincoln.

Ford’s Theater is still standing, and still hosts plays. On its website it has a wonderful section that contains first-person accounts of the shooting. Click here to see it.

Lincoln’s death on April 15, 1865, so traumatized the nation that it resulted in a national (and historical) downplaying of the deadliest maritime disaster in American history, that being the Sultana disaster. Click here to read about this.

Nashville Union American, Nov. 10, 1859

Chapter 14: True and Universal Time


Bristol News, March 10, 1874

Back story: I’m aware that time zones aren’t a fourth grade standard. But the more I thought about this subject, the more I realized that this is a fascinating example of how the industrial revolution changed everyone’s lifestyle. It also struck me that this is one of those wonderful opportunities to teach students something their parents don’t know. There is nothing more satisfying than when I hear that a fourth graders stunned their parents by telling them something that they didn’t know.

If you click on the item in the Bristol News, on the left, you will see that one railroad operated on “Washington Time,” another on “Nashville Time.” It’s interesting to me that the ad assumes that the reader knows what those are, compared to Bristol time. One of life’s great mysteries.


Chapter 15: Digging in the Dirt


This is the only chapter that appeared in a previous booklet. I decided to include it when Jack Master told me that “Digger Doug” Drake had passed away.

Bill Puryear, whose photo appears on page 86, is a wonderful artist who has graciously allowed me to use some of his images in the past. Click here to see some of his many paintings.

There is a lot of overlap between the information in this chapter and a virtual tour “In Search of the Old Road Across the Plateau” which can be found on this website here.

Two teachers served as consultants in the writing and production of this booklet — Cynthia Jones of Davidson County and Carole Kennedy of McNairy County. Both had experience teaching fourth graders in ELA and social studies.

If you have any comments, feedback or suggestions about this or any other Tennessee History for Kids booklets, email Bill Carey at bill@tnhistoryforkids.org.