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In the Classroom > Unit Overview
Lessons: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8

Lesson 1: Pocumtucks In Deerfield

Unit Central Question:

In This Lesson:

How did the cultural characteristics, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and economic conditions of the French, English, and Indians contribute to the growth of inter-group hostilities, fighting, and attacks in the late 17th and early 18th centuries?

Lesson Length
Key Ideas
Activity 1
Activity 2
Activity 3
Lesson Length

Activity 1: 1 hour
Activity 2: 45 minutes
Activity 3: 45 minutes

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Key Content Ideas Taught in this Lesson and Teacher Background

• Prior to and during European settlement, the Pocumtucks were the principle Indian (Native American) group in Deerfield. They lived in the area for thousands of years prior to European contact.

• Pocumtuck religious beliefs included the idea that inanimate features in the physical world contained souls and spirits. Elements of nature were sometimes given names reflecting these beliefs, such as "Father Mountain". The "Beaver Story," a Pocumtuck legend, illustrates this aspect of their religious philosophy.

• The Pocumtucks believed that all people coexist on the land and share its resources equally. They did not have a concept of individual land ownership.

• The Pocumtucks used the land for hunting and fishing, gathering, and, to a limited extent, for farming. Access to plentiful sources of food and other useful materials changed with the seasons. Consequently, they moved their homes seasonally within a territory to be close to the most abundant resources.

• The Pocumtuck economy was based on hunting, trading, bartering, and farming. Trapping animals for their fur, especially beaver, was particularly important since beaver skins were highly desired by the Europeans, and the Pocumtucks could use the pelts as trade goods. The success of the Pocumtuck economy depended on a plentiful beaver population.

For more information read:
Teacher Background Essay - Native American Presence in Deerfield, Massachusetts.

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Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will understand:

1. the "Beaver Story" and that it reflects the Pocumtucks' religious belief that souls and spirits exist in the physical world.
2. the Pocumtucks' concept of land ownership, which emphasized sharing the land and all that it provides.
3. that the Pocumtucks migrated within their territory due to their seasonal needs. Consequently, their homes were not permanent structures.
4. that the Pocumtucks believed that the land would always be available to them for farming, hunting, and gathering.
5. that the Pocumtucks were able to provide for themselves and their families by trading with Europeans and by hunting and farming.
6. that the depletion of beaver populations had a significant social impact on the Native people in Western Massachusetts. As the beaver trade grew and the beavers were depleted, local Native American groups had to move farther away to hunt, infringing on the territories of other people and resulting in conflicts.

Students will:

1. be able to gather information from a variety of primary and secondary sources and will be able to use this information to form hypotheses and reach conclusions.
2. gain the skills necessary to do independent research through their use of resource books, primary sources, and the internet.
3. be able to identify on the map the location of the Pocumtucks, who lived in Deerfield, Massachusetts, in 1704.
4. be able to describe aspects and characteristics of Pocumtuck life.

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In Preparation for Teaching

1. Read teacher background essay: Native American Presence in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
2. Make necessary copies from web site.
3. Review discussion questions and guidelines.
4. Collect supplies.

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Primary and Secondary Sources:
[Note: all primary and secondary source materials, worksheets and other teacher generated materials necessary for teaching this lesson will be linked from this page. Sources are listed in the order they will be needed in the activities that follow.]

1. Teacher background essay- Native American Presence in Deerfield, Massachusetts.
2. The "Beaver Legend" a web page by Tammy Marie Rittenour.
3. Silhouette of Mt. Sugarloaf range.
4. Allen Sisters Photograph of Mt. Sugarloaf.
5. Pictures of beavers.
6. Photograph of 1920's era diorama of Native Village from RS Peabody Museum , Andover, MA.
7. Bird's Eye View Drawing of Weantinock Homeland.
8. July 14, 1703 Prices of Goods broadside.


1. Notebook or folder for collecting information
2. Construction paper
3. Crayons or markers
4. Vocabulary List for July 14, 1703 Prices of Goods
5. Sheets listing Indian and English Trade Goods
6. Scissors

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Activities Materials in Context

Activity 1
Pocumtuck religious beliefs-The "Beaver Story"

A. Distribute copies of the "Beaver Legend", photo of Mt. Sugarloaf, silhouette of the Mt. Sugarloaf range drawn by Suzanne Flynt and photos of beavers. Instruct students to read the "Beaver Legend" and try to find the shape of the "beaver" in the pictures of Mt. Sugarloaf. Discuss.

1. Divide students into smaller groups.

2. Instruct the groups to discuss their understanding of the story. Inform them that they will be creating illustrations of the story later. Ask them to answer the following questions:

  • Why do you think the Pocumtuck had this story? How old do you think it is?
  • What did the Pocumtucks call the present day Mt. Sugarloaf?
  • What did the Pocumtucks think Mt. Sugarloaf was?
  • How did the Indians believe the beaver became Mt.Sugarloaf?
  • What body part of the beaver is represented by the part of Mt. Sugarloaf that looks out towards Sunderland, Massachusetts?
  • What might this story tell you about Pocumtuck beliefs and attitudes?

3. Instruct each group to prepare four drawings depicting their understanding of the "Beaver Story". The students will need to decide cooperatively which part of the story each member of the group will illustrate. Ask students to write a caption for each picture.

4. "Publish" each group's pictures by placing them on a bulletin board for viewing.

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Beaver Legend

Photo of Mt. Sugarloaf by the Allen sisters

silhouette drawing of Mt. Sugarloaf range

photos of beavers

Activity 2
Pocumtuck concept of land ownership

A. Ask students to imagine themselves at the top of Pocumtuck Ridge in Deerfield, MA, in the 1650's looking down on a small cluster of Indian dwellings surrounded by planting fields near a river.

1. Have them draw a sketch of what activities, structures and items they might see.

2. Then, generate a list on the chalkboard of what they imagined.

3. Distribute the Bird's Eye View of Weantinock Homeland and photo of diorama of Native Village. Use these to enhance the discussion and to flesh out the list. [Note: Based on previous study, students in Deerfield will be familiar with 17th century Indian village life in the period. For those whose students have not covered this material, a teacher may introduce some basic information in a guided discussion. Students looking down on a cluster of dwellings in summer might see men canoeing and fishing in the Deerfield River, women cultivating crops (the "three sisters," corn, squash, and beans) and cooking, children at play or tending gardens or standing on platforms above fields to chase away crows, structures (long houses and wigwams), people traveling along paths, people dressed in clothing made primarily of skins, tools and utensils for hunting, fishing, carrying, sewing, and cooking, etc.]


  • Do you think individuals owned plots of land? Why or why not?
  • What areas in your picture might be for everybody to use?
  • The Pocumtucks moved within their homeland depending on their needs and the season. How would this effect private versus public spaces?

B. Have the students repeat Exercise A (above) as if they were looking down upon an English village during the early 1700's. Use a guided discussion to help students guess what they would see. Include, for example, roads, fences, permanent structures, a meetinghouse, long rows of crops, plows pulled by teams of oxen, people dressed in European-style clothing of the period, etc.


  • The English believed that God wanted them to "tame the wilderness". What features in your picture or on the class list are signs of this?
  • Do you think individuals owned plots of land? Why or why not?
  • What areas in your picture might be for everybody to use?
  • The English built permanent villages. How would this effect private versus public spaces?

C. Compare the drawings and the lists.


  • What are the differences between the two settlements?
  • Which has more structures?
  • What might this mean?
  • Which has more roads, walls, and fences?
  • What might this mean?
  • How do you suppose each group would respond if you tried to plant a garden in their field?
  • Which group might have an easier time moving their homes to a new location?
  • Which group of people feels most strongly that land can be owned and controlled by an individual?

D. Instruct students to write a paragraph describing the English and Pocumtuck villages, and a paragraph explaining what each group believed about the ownership of land.

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Bird's Eye View of Weantinock Homeland

Diorama of Native Village


Activity 3
Pocumtuck economic structure

A. Distribute the July 14, 1703 broadside that lists bartering equivalences and the vocabulary sheet.

1. Ask students to examine the broadside and then discuss particulars from it, including:

  • Which had more value, beavers or raccoons?
  • What other animal body parts besides beaver were used for trading and for making tools?
  • How many beaver skins would it take to obtain a hat, shirt, and five pecks of Indian corn?
  • How many raccoons equaled one beaver?
  • How many beavers were needed to equal one bear?
  • Who might have printed this broadside? Why?
  • Who had the most control over setting these values?
  • Do you think they had any ulterior motives? Explain.

B. Divide students into pairs.

1. Tell students that one person in each group will be portraying a Pocumtuck and the other an English trader. Ask students in each pair to select the roles they will play.

2. Tell students they will practice trading by using slips of paper with the names of trade goods used by the Indians and Europeans during this time.

  • Distribute Indian and English trade goods lists to each pair of students. Each word on the trade goods list represents one item. Have students cut out each item.
  • Instruct students to use their limited number of items to trade for necessities. Have them use the values on the broadside to determine what each item is worth.
  • Give students ten minutes to complete this activity.
  • Ask each student to produce a written account of the transactions.

C. Lead a discussion on the impact of having so many people trading beaver skins and what happens when there are fewer beavers left to trade. Questions:

  • Before they met Europeans, Indian people only took what was needed when they hunted. Ask what students think happened when Europeans began to appear with new trade goods that the Indian people had never seen before.
  • The Europeans mostly wanted furs, especially beaver furs. With so many Indians and Europeans hunting the beaver in New England, what would happen to the beaver population?
  • When the beaver population was depleted, what would the hunters do? What problems might this cause?
  • How is hunting different today?


July 14, 1703 broadside

vocabulary sheet











Trade Goods Sheet

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Use the following materials to assess the degree to which students achieved the intended learning outcomes for this lesson:

1. Illustrations of the "Beaver Story" from Activity 1.
2. Paragraphs about the villages and land ownership from Activity 2.
3. Accounts of the trading session from Activity 3.

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