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Identifying the various roles played by whites, enslaved African Americans, free African Americans, and American Indians in the Revolutionary War era, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and James Lafayette.



  • Assist students in understanding that Virginians made significant contributions during the Revolutionary War era.

  • Introduce and identify the varied roles of Virginians in the Revolutionary War era.

  • Tell students that Virginia patriots served in the Continental Army and fought against the English, leading to the English surrender at Yorktown.

  • Explain that some Virginians were neutral and did not take sides and that other Virginians remained loyal to England.

  • Define the terms patriot, loyalist, and neutral. Post the definitions on a bulletin board.

  • First, have the students pretend they are patriots and list reasons on a chart why they are fighting against England. Discuss.

  • Then, have the students pretend they are loyalists and list reasons on a chart why they are in support of England. Discuss.

  • Next, have the students pretend they are neutral and list reasons on a chart why they are not taking sides. Discuss.

  • Explain that many African Americans from Virginia were divided about the war. Some slaves fought for the English because they were promised freedom.

  • Introduce James Armistead Lafayette, a slave from Virginia, who served in the Continental Army and was given his freedom after the war. Explain that he played an instrumental role by serving the Continental Army as a spy.

  • Ask students to predict the role that women might have during the Revolutionary War. List the responses on a chart. Explain that they had more responsibility and have students identify what those responsibilities may have been. (Lead students to realize that women had to take care of farms, families, and wounded soldiers; maintain the home, etc.)

  • Describe the contributions of Virginians during the Revolutionary War era, using the following information as a guide:
    • George Washington provided military leadership by serving as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
    • Thomas Jefferson provided political leadership by expressing the reasons for colonial independence from England in the Declaration of Independence.
    • Patrick Henry inspired patriots from other colonies when he spoke out against taxation without representation by saying, “. . . give me liberty or give me death.”

  • Show the students pictures of Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Patrick Henry, and see if students can identify these patriots before you tell them their names. Divide the class into three groups and have them research these men, focusing on the roles they played during the Revolutionary War. Have each group share their information with other class members while they take notes. Refer to the Essential Understandings for necessary details.

  • Share excerpts from books about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Patrick Henry.

  • Optional: Have students memorize and recite an excerpt from Patrick Henry’s “. . . give me liberty or give me death” speech.

  • Set up simulations in which some students portray George Washington, Continental soldiers, French soldiers, General Cornwallis, and the Redcoats. Share that Cornwallis and his men needed supplies such as food and ammunition. (Have a prop on a table away from this group of children protected by the children portraying the French and children portraying George Washington and his soldiers.) Cornwallis and his men attempt to get to the supplies they need, but are unsuccessful because they are surrounded by forces on all sides. Cornwallis must surrender (give child playing Cornwallis a white flag).

  • Share pictures of American victory at Yorktown. (The New Nation.pdf.) Explain that we are now a free country that must form its own government.

  • Give students a sequence activity to review events of the Revolutionary War, or have students complete a cause-and-effect activity similar to the one on Jamestown.

  • Read a Virginia Story: African Americans in the Revolutionary War.

  • Complete a Virginia patriot biography. Give students a paper doll pattern, which should be made from a stiff piece of poster or tag board. Have students select a Virginia Patriot and then dress and decorate the figure to resemble the person (using fabric only) being as authentic as possible. Students create a writing web with details on their subject, such as: birth date, birthplace, early years, important achievements, family background, and other interesting facts. Students then write a well-organized, detailed biography using their web.

  • Hold a debate. Separate students into two groups: Patriots and Loyalists. Give students a few different scenarios to discuss. For example, one student could be a poor farmer with crops to sell when he or she is approached by the British, who wants to buy the goods. Meanwhile, George Washington needs food for his troops but is unable to pay for the goods. The farmer is torn, since he or she wants to help the Patriots yet he or she desperately needs the money.

  • Have students read stories of women who were involved in the revolution and report back to the class.

  • Brainstorm a list of things the African slaves could do to help in the American Revolution.

  • Discuss possible reasons why George Washington changed his policy prohibiting African Americans from enlisting.

  • Compare and contrast Patrick Henry's idea of liberty and that held by African Americans, Native Americans (First Americans), and women. The Web site at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aia/part1/index.html can be a resource.



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Updated on August 11, 2008.