Fall SAVY 2019: Day 2 – Spies and Conspiracies (Grades 5/6)
What a great day! Our detective historians brought their A-game to today’s challenging conspiracies. Today, we explored Conspiracies in the Era of Confederation, basically the 1780s. We started with a little bit of music from Hamilton to remind us of last week, “Yorktown,” and then turned to “What Comes Next” to ask our leading question and get our main ideas for today. The revolution won, what will come next for the new nation? And in the words of George III in “What Comes Next,” “Do you know how hard it is to lead?”
For our first project we employed the methods of detective historians. We decided to focus on the territorial confusion in North America that resulted from the Treaty of Paris in 1783. We became expert cartographers as we mapped all of the overlapping territorial claims of the states–Virginia, Connecticut, Massachusetts– and the overlapping territorial claims of nations and empires–the US, Spain, Britain. Next, we asked questions, used evidence from the map to answer them, and then our sleuths shared their own analysis. First they identified all of the spaces where there were numerous claims to land. Next, for their analysis, they put on their 1783 Founders Whigs and debated the most pressing dangers and questions facing the new nation as they saw them from looking at the map. Whah happens next? And I have to say our detective historians did such a phenomenal job. They identified some of the most pressing concerns of the founders in 1783 as they looked to the future that loomed large with threats of uncertainty and danger. Many of these questions are things that modern Americans are completely unaware, things that no longer exist in the public national memory. Would the US go to war with Britain or Spain? Would international powers gang up on the United States and carve it up to add to their own empires? Spain, after all, had only helped the US in the American Revolution because of its own desire for revenge against Britain. With that thirst for revenge quenched, would Spain turn to swallowing up American territory? How would the nation settle its war debt? What would happen if the states fell into skirmishes and war with one another over territorial disputes? Would the US become a bunch of independent un-United States?
Next our historians built on this excellent analysis as they unpacked the competing interests and ideas of many of the parties involved in territorial claims in North American: Spain, Native Americans, the Founders and Americans living in the East, Americans living west of the Appalachians. The greatest challenge that they uncovered was that Spain shut the Mississippi off to American shipping and closed the port of New Orleans to all American commerce. This was a far cry from what Americans anticipated in 1781 at the close of the war, and now it threatened American settlement in the west because there was no way for settlers to feasibly get their goods to market. While Spain looked to counter the United States as its new territorial enemy by shutting off the Mississippi and engaging Native American groups in alliances, Native Americans for their part readily turned to trading and making alliances with both the United States and Spain. There were not many options for Americans, and many understood the future as bleak–they could go to war with Spain and take Spanish forts in the Mississippi Valley, the western territories might break off and form their own independent states, or settlement could collapse. Any of these options would put a terrible strain on the new nation, but the United States had very little bargaining power at the negotiating table at this point.
From there, our detective historians turned their attention to two major conspiracies in the American West. One group looked at an event called the Bourbon County Crisis, when the state of Georgia made a land grab at Spanish Natchez on the Mississippi, claiming that its territory reached the Mississippi, trying to secure Indian allies, denying Spanish sovereignty in the area, and attempting to bring the English speaking colonists of the area into rebellion. Both Spain and the United States rejected this upstart plan of the State of Georgia, and Spain was able to suppress the short lived Bourbon County government that set up shop at Natchez, only after sending spies into the American west to ascertain the sympathies and plans of Spanish colonists, Americans living in the west, and various Native groups. Ultimately, the border between Spanish and American territory remained unresolved in this era of confederation, a state of affairs that only Native Americans of the Southeast were pleased about. Our other group of historians investigated the conspiracy between Kentucky settlers and Spanish Louisiana, as forged by the adventurer and spy James Wilkinson and Spanish Governor Esteban Miro at New Orleans. This episode gave our historians insight into the uncertainty that plagued the American trans-Appalachian west in the era of confederation, as well as insight into how Wilkinson first became a spy for Spain. His work for Spain would carry well beyond the following decade.
Our fantastic detective historians then took their analysis of these episodes, put them into artistic renderings, and presented them to one another. What excellent work! What a fun day! What impressive work! We can’t wait to show you more about our class at Open House on Saturday!