For Social Studies

Lesson Plan:

  • Social Studies/New York State History
    • 7th Grade (NYS History)
    • 8th or 11th Grade (American history)


Students will demonstrate comprehension of how the American victory in the Battle of Plattsburgh affected the outcome of the War of 1812 by expressing this in an essay.


“Banks of Champlain”

Amount of time required:

3 – 5 days

Preparatory Set:

Students will already have studied events leading up to the Battle of Plattsburgh. Have students recall these events by way of a structured paper exercise such as a bubble chart.


  1. Suggest to the students that they might discern some specific aspects of the Battle of Plattsburgh from the context of a song called “Banks of Champlain.”

  2. Print out copies of the sheet music for each student. Have them listen first to the entire song, either from a recording or in performance by the teacher, while following the printed music. Then play the recording again, encouraging them to sing along with it. [It is important that they sing, rather than just listen, as it gives them a deeper and more intimate appreciation of the text.]

  3. Examine the text of the ballad. From whose perspective is the ballad written? [Catherine Macomb, wife of the commander of the land forces, Brig. Gen. Alexander Macomb] How does this affect the tone of the ballad? [She despairs for her husband’s life] Notice how few actual battle details are presented in the ballad. How would the ballad be different if written from the perspective of an active participant?

  4. This will then lead into an examination of how the British eventually lost the war and the role the Battle of Plattsburgh played in their loss. Points to consider: Which was more pivotal in the outcome of the battle – the land forces or the sea forces? What does the ballad focus on?

  5.  Assign an essay asking the students to detail the events of the Battle of Plattsburgh and speculate as to how choices made by the US forces resulted in a positive outcome for the Americans.

Lesson Plan Extension:

Ext 1.
The ballad’s account of the Battle of Plattsburgh was clearly written from an observer’s perspective. Many  specific details, especially those regarding the sea battle, do not appear in the ballad. From other history books or historical sources, have students list other documented events which occurred during the battle and use that information to create more verses for the ballad (or an entirely new ballad) following the metric patterns of existing verses.

New York State Learning Standards – The NYS  Learning Standard (quoted from state publications) is presented in italics.

Learning Standards for Social Studies

Four out of the five New York State Learning Standards for Social Studies can be easily satisfied in using material from this website.

In addition to using material provided in this website, students should be encouraged to seek out others in their families and communities who have songs or tunes learned as part of the intermingling of cultures in their lives. Brief interviews with these people can reveal how this culture was passed from person to person within a community, or from generation to generation within a family and may point to patterns of immigration, emigration, regional or national economics and more.

Standard 1:

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments and turning points in the history of the United States and New York. In developing lesson plans to satisfy this standard, students should be engaged in the exploration of the settling of New York following the War of Independence and the issuance of Military Tracts in partial payment for service to their new country.

Some questions raised might be:
  • Who were they?

  • Where did they come from?
      • Had they settled previously elsewhere and moved to the New York region?

  • What was their ethnic background?

  • Why did they settle in the Adirondack (or upstate) region?

  • What were their primary activities?
      • Hunting and trapping? 
      • Logging?
      • Farming?
      • Were they tradesmen like blacksmiths or sawyers?

  • How did they entertain themselves?
      • What instruments did they bring with them?
      • What songs and tunes did they know from their previous home or from their cultural heritage?

  • Did certain work groups develop their own repertoires of material based on their daily activities?
      • Did they base those songs on previously known songs or tunes?

  • Did they join in social gatherings such as dances with other farmers, shop owners or villagers in the surrounding areas?
      • Were there other social situations such as the evening fires in the lumber camps?

Students could also delve into the progression of the lumbering industry as the country spread westward. One aspect of this study might include finding and tracking variants of Adirondack lumbering songs in the repertoires of lumbermen from Maine or Michigan.

Another avenue which could be pursued in satisfying this standard is examining how the emergence of recorded and electronic media changed the way music was shared and appreciated in the last century. Whereas people tended to make their own music in earlier times, the dissemination of new styles through records and the radio made the old songs and fiddle tunes seem backward, outdated and hopelessly old-fashioned.

How did this affect their social gatherings? Songs from Tin Pan Alley were played in the parlor rather than the old songs handed down within families (“Gilgarrah Mountain,” “Go Tell Aunt Nabby”). At dances, the latest fox trot tunes replaced the fiddle tunes which were the standard of so many  barn dances (“Gary Owen,” “Miss McCloud’s Reel”). The decline of the social contexts in which this music was shared would also make an interesting study.

Standard 2:

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of major ideas, eras, themes, developments, and turning points in world history and examine the broad sweep of history from a variety of perspectives.

Although the Adirondacks is a comparatively small region relative to the big picture of the United States, its population and industrial growth in the nineteenth   and early twentieth  centuries can give students a perspective on immigration, cultural and economic development in the broader scope of the eastern seaboard and the westward movement. It may also be indicative of the influences of Old World cultures on the cultural aggregate of the “melting pot.”

Much of the song and tune material in this website came into being or arrived on American shores during the great immigration waves of the previous centuries. Many  things about those times can be learned from their music: the ethnicity of the immigrants, their culture, their work and their entertainment. And we can also perceive how these cultures mixed and merged into a new entity (the Adirondack “native”), with characteristics peculiar to that region. Look at the last names of the performers to get a clue as to the region’s ethnic diversity: Galusha, Ashlaw, Boyea, Chaloux, Older, Cleveland, deLorme.

In such a study, one could also consider the instruments used by these people, as well as the instruments place of origin. The fiddle came from Europe, as did the accordion, the harmonica and the jaw harp. The banjo came from Africa, the guitar from Spain, and the mandolin from Italy. How did they find their way into the backwoods of the Adirondacks to be used for their various forms of entertainment? What does this say about the flow of non-indigenous influences into the fabric of American life, or more specifically, life in the Adirondack region? What impact did the Native American culture of the North Country have on the settlers of European descent?

Standard 3:

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of the geography of the interdependent world in which we live—local, national, and global—including the distribution of people, places, and environments over the Earth’s surface.

Even in the earliest decades of our nation’s history, geographic regions were dependent upon each other for commerce, growth and development. The Adirondacks had much to offer the rest of the state and the nation in its vast resources.

We find, in the songs and ballads, reflections of this interdependence. Logs harvested from the forests (“Once More A-Lumbering Go,” “Tebo,” “Jam on Gerry’s Rock”), became homes, barns and ships. Iron ore (“Young Brennan”) became tools, wagon axles and machinery. And by the early twentieth  century, some areas of the Adirondacks were becoming favorite vacation spots “(Ballad of Big Moose Lake”).

Through the songs and tunes found in this site, one can also make a study of the various nationalities and ethnic groups that  came to the Adirondack region to settle – English, Irish, French and others. The music often times came with the settlers.

One can then ask:
  • Why did these particular ethnic groups move here? What was the attraction? Was it the jobs? The search for raw materials? Adventure? And what led New Englanders to move westward into New York? These and more questions can be pondered, discussed and debated using these songs and tunes as springboards.

Standard 4:

Students will use a variety of intellectual skills to demonstrate their understanding of how the United States and other societies develop economic systems and associated institutions to allocate scarce resources, how major decision-making units function in the United States and other national economies, and how an economy solves the scarcity problem through market and non-market mechanisms.

The Adirondack’s biggest historic resource – and its biggest historic industry – was its timber. Through commerce, the Adirondacks shared that abundance with the rest of the state and the nation. An exploration could be made into the ways in which the hardwoods, softwoods and pulp made the journey from the mountains to the consumers and subsequently, how the time and hardships involved in that transportation necessitated the building of the Erie Canal and eventually the railroads.

Songs about the lumbering industry could tie in with the study of this industry. “Tebo” and “Jam on Gerry’s Rock” deal with the dangers of logging. “Once More A-Lumbering Go” and “The Woodsman’s Alphabet” provide snapshots of life in the lumber camps. Songs such as “Beaver River” and “The Cold River Line” are character portraits of the variety of individuals who worked in the camps. “The Farmer and the Shanty Boy” provides a comparison view of the economics of both occupations and the related benefits to the families.

Other questions could emerge from such a study:
  • Who made the most money in the lumbering industry?
      • The workers?
      • The bosses?
      • The mills?
      • The owners?

  • Why did river drivers get paid more than the loggers? 
Songs such as “Tebo” and “Jam on Gerry’s Rock” give hints as to the answers to these questions.