|The lesson on the Battle of Huck's Defeat or the Battle of Williamson's Plantation provided an extension of lessons I had done in the past. I have always felt that it was important for the students in my classes to know about this small battle that occurred so close to where they live. Most of my students have been to Brattonsville by the time they are in the eighth grade, and the investigation into this battle increases their knowledge of the importance of local history. As Jefferson Smith said in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, "History is more than just words in a book."
When I approached Kevin Lynch about this lesson, he gave me materials that were used at the reenactment of the battle. He then referred me to Michael Scoggins at the Historical Center of York. The Historical Center and Brattonsville are both part of the History, Culture, & Heritage Commission of York County. Michael has done extensive research on the battle and graciously shared his thesis paper and resources with me. One of the resources was William Bratton, Junior's Reminiscences of Huck's Defeat , an account of the battle that was dictated to his son sometime in the 1800s. Sam Thomas, Curator of the History, Culture & Heritage Commission, has also written much about the battle. Both of these men were invaluable in preparing this lesson.
The students had been introduced to primary sources and had used some transcribed sources before this lesson. This was the first one where they had an actual copy of the handwritten document. Their first reaction was one of "I can't read this," which gradually changed to "This is pretty cool." I made the mistake of giving the entire document to my first class to transcribe. Not only was that overwhelming for them, it was a disaster in terms of time. Learning from that mistake, I gave another class the entire document but assigned each pair of students one section to transcribe. This was much more successful and taught me that it was much better to give them small bites of documents to work with rather than to try the entire document at once.
Another thing that helped was to have the pairs of students read portions of the document aloud to each other. Again, this was not as overwhelming to them in terms of understanding. I have found that often when they hear the person's words instead of just reading them, they comprehend better. Perhaps in hearing things said, they don't concentrate as much on the differences in terms used then and now or in the differences in spelling.
Last semester's lesson dealt mainly with William Bratton's account of the battle. Since it was the first time I had done a lesson exactly like this, I had the students concentrate on one document. I have added Col. William Hill's account to the lesson for this semester. The students will know about Col. Hill because they will have studied Hill's Iron Works and its importance to early York County. (I think there is an opportunity for another primary source lesson with this topic.)
I created a set of questions for the students to use to help them focus on the key aspects of Bratton's story. This seemed to help all of the students, especially the ones who have a lower level of reading.
Using the example of William Bratton telling his story to his son to write was an excellent springboard to teach the students about talking with their parents, grandparents, or other adults about their experiences. I gave them a chance to think about stories that they had heard in their families and how these stories are often handed down from generation to generation. We talked about how they have an opportunity to record stories just as John Bratton recorded his dad's except now they have many more ways of recording stories. In a future lesson, an extension of this lesson may be to interview a family member or friend about their memories of an important historical or family event in order to preserve it for their family. This is a way to teach the student that our present is tomorrow's history.
An activity that I used in review of the Revolutionary War unit was to have students tell the story of one of the events from the viewpoint of an object that was present. Several students told the story of Huck's Defeat from the viewpoint of the scythe or sickle that threatened Mrs. Bratton. This proved to be a popular activity with the students who could use their creative writing to show an understanding of an event.
This is a lesson that will definitely be used, refined, and shared with the other members of the history department of my school.