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In the Classroom > Course Overview

Course Central Question:
What were the distinguishing characteristics of the people of Deerfield during the Federal Period (1780-1820)? How were these illustrated through lifestyles, economy, local governance, and the community's relationship with the land?

The Nile of New England:
A Study of the History of a Connecticut River Valley Town Over Three Centuries

Overview of Unit 2: The Federal Period 1780 - 1820

Unit Length:15 lessons in 23 class periods (85 minutes each)

Teacher Background:
By the 1730’s a period of relative stability was evident in Deerfield, brought about in part by the development of new towns to the north. The town had become relatively insulated from attacks by Native American peoples eager to reclaim land. Deerfield settlers were once again able to devote time and energy to developing their farms, and actively participating in the workings of their rural community. The following decades brought more regional conflict in the form of the French wars (King George’s War, 1743-1745; and the Seven Years War, 1756-1763). Wars have traditionally provided economic stimulation, and Deerfield became an important supplier to the English forces to the north and west. Foodstuffs came from the rich agricultural land on the terrace between the Deerfield and Connecticut Rivers, and the equipment of war came from commissary Elijah William’s store on the Deerfield Common.

Elijah Williams belonged to a class of Connecticut River Valley people known as the River Gods or Mansion People, families who wielded political, economic, and military power up and down the region. By mid-century the power of the River Gods was challenged by a rising middling element. Craftsmen, artisans, and yeoman farmers ­ bolstered by the increased capital generated by the sale of agricultural surpluses ­ began to seek the higher standard of living set by the River Gods. Consumer goods were more easily available for all with money to spend and the standards of living rose.

In the early years of settlement, the citizens of Deerfield had been of one mind politically, united against the French and Indians. After 1750, as conditions worsened between the colonists and the crown, the town became divided between those who supported the King (Tories or Loyalists) and those who spoke out for independence (Patriots or Whigs). By the time the Revolutionary War was over, these differences had eased; most of Deerfield men between the ages of 16 and 60 had served in the militia.

By the 1790s, many Deerfield families were still making a living farming, trying new crops when western competition dictated. As regional transportation routes expanded and new forms of travel were adopted, new markets were found for their products. Surplus crops were shipped from Deerfield’s Cheapside downriver to Hartford, Connecticut; Boston, Massachusetts (via connecting routes) and the West Indies. Cattle were herded overland to the Boston market. Throughout New England, improvements in transportation and communication fed the new “consumer revolution,” allowing more fashionable goods and clothing, and giving more people access to a wealth of information in books, newspapers, and periodicals. The impact on Deerfield was substantial. Information and goods from Boston, New York, and London, England were available quicker and more readily than ever before. New houses were built or remodeled along the Deerfield Street using elements of architectural styles being promoted in the big cities and in Europe. New furniture and textiles were available for the rooms inside. The influx of new ideas and new thinking was further enhanced through the creation of Deerfield Academy. Founded in 1797 for the purpose of higher learning, some of its students came from as far as 100 miles away.

During the teaching of Unit 2, it is our purpose to chart this increased awareness and prosperity and to identify the elements of refinement within the Deerfield Community. This will be done through the study of inventories and tax lists, and by an architectural comparison of houses built before the American Revolution and in the early decades of the New Republic.

Key Content Ideas Covered in This Unit

  1. Deerfield was becoming prosperous.
  2. Economically, the town was diversifying from strictly agriculture and river trade to include consumer culture.
  3. Improved transportation and communication expanded the horizons of the people of Deerfield.
  4. Increased wealth and sophistication gave rise to cultural refinement and expanded consumerism.
  5. Increased sophistication led to differing ideas and opinions on numerous subjects.
  6. The Deerfield community became fragmented as some of its inhabitants responded to domination by the British Crown by overt actions.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will understand:

  1. World events brought important changes that impacted Deerfield.
  2. Deerfield became prosperous because of the river trade and improved agricultural practices. This prosperity led to increased refinement.
  3. Deerfield people were generally literate, and gathered information through lyceums, newspapers, libraries, and interaction with others in clubs and societies.
  4. Education was important to people in Deerfield. In addition to support of local primary schools, they chartered an academy in 1797 for the purpose of secondary education.
  5. Transportation and communication improved. The central government in Boston expanded the "world view" in Deerfield, heightening their interest in consumer goods.
  6. Deerfield was a complex community with members taking on a variety of roles and jobs, i.e. servant, craftsman, housewife, clergy, and apprentice.
  7. Deerfield families had strong kinship ties with families up and down the Connecticut River.
  8. There were diverse opinions about the War of Independence each with their own set of reasons.

Students will be able to:

  1. Make connections between wealth and the "niceties" of daily life.
  2. Use information gained from this and other periods to develop a continuum showing the growth of the Deerfield community.
  3. Interpret census and tax data to make logical inferences and support conclusions.
  4. "Read" a building and understand architectural terminology.
  5. Make a family chart for their Deerfield family.
  6. Articulate the varied roles typical for the support of a small New England town.
  7. Contrast the changing viewpoints of Deerfield people in the years before, during, and after the American Revolution.

Unit At-A-Glance (lesson titles link to lessons)

# Lesson Content Covered Skills Covered
1 Placing Deerfield in a National Context Growth of the British Colonies in the New World; increase in religious diversity; disputes between France and England over control of North America.



Refinement in Deerfield: The River Gods


Lifeways of the wealthy; kinship connections; agricultural innovations.  
3 Using Primary Documents: "Agreeable to His Genius"


18th century middle class; growth of the Deerfield Community.


4 Martha Ballard (1785-1812): An Essential Woman in Her Community


Women in Federal Era New England; gender roles and responsibilities.  
5 The Middling Class in Deerfield: Two People on Albany Road: A Case study


Craftsmen, apprentices and professionals are a key part of Deerfield's growth.  
6 Revolution in Deerfield: Political Turmoil Loyalism and Rebellion in Revolutionary Era Connecticut River Valley.


7 Daniel Shays and the Constitution Aftereffects of the Articles of Confederation; taxes and rebellion.


8 Deerfield Matures: Deerfield’s Changing Economy


Economic change, improvements in transportation and agricultural practice, the development of industry, and their effect on the Deerfield economic and political climate; changing world views.  
9 Education and the Founding of the Academies


The importance of education in pre- and post-Revolutionary Deerfield.  
10 Family Life in the Federal Period Evolution of a small New England town; Deerfield families; diversity of jobs in a town.


11 Refinement in Deerfield as Exemplified in the Visual Image of the Town


Architecture's role in displaying the elements of refinement to others; the visual language of prosperity.  
12 Death and the Deerfield Graveyard Death, burial and mourning during the Federal Era; effect of social/economic position on these practices.


13 Deerfield Visit: Reading a House/Place (Ebenezer Hinsdale Williams House)


Relationship between economic level and material culture: markers of gentility (architecture, material goods) as demonstrated by a single structure.  
14 The Meeting House Democratization of religion; gradual separation of church and state; waning influence of Congregational Church on secular and religious life.


15 A Virtual Visit to Deerfield: One Hundred Years After the Colonial Period How public and private spaces reveal the history and character of a town.  

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