Elizabeth Cahill, Wachusett Regional School District, Holden, Massachusetts

DESIGN LEVEL: Middle School-High School


Reproduction clothing, equipment and primary source materials telling the story of five different individuals involved in the Revolutionary War at sea—a British Naval Captain, a French Naval Lieutenant, an American Privateer, a Common Sailor and an Able Seaman—are used to demonstrate the divide between naval officers and the ordinary mariners who performed daily chores aboard ship.


Students will:

  • explore how clothing such as military uniforms from the past can be used to better understand historical figures and events.




Recommended Time:

One 50-minute class period.


Ask students to examine each naval character’s clothing and uniform and have them complete this worksheet asking them to describe each character’s uniform. Have them think about the similarities and differences between the uniforms of the officers and the able and ordinary seamen. Then facilitate a class discussion based on this question from the worksheet.

What does the clothing worn by those on naval ships tell you about the social structure on board? Explain.
Have students note similarities and differences among the uniforms of the British captain, French lieutenant and the American privateer. Facilitate a class discussion based on the question below.

Why would uniforms between fighting powers be similar? What do you think the reasons are for the differences in uniforms?


Ask students to think about clothing items worn today such as jackets, shoes and shirts. Have them write a short paragraph explaining how historians in the future might better understand life in the twenty-first century through an analysis of today’s clothing items. For example, what would a band t-shirt tell historians about popular culture in the 2020s.