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Lesson Plan: James Lawther

For Teachers - An Introduction:
This lesson is designed to introduce your students to historical research with primary sources. They will be presented with a set of six primary sources relating to a person in Minnesota history. Students will be provided with source data, online activity questions to direct their study, and a worksheet designed to help them draw conclusions about the sources they have seen and about primary source research in general. The sections of this site are not intended to be complete histories of the people or events involved, but rather serve as examples of what students might find in their own research attempts.

Who was James Lawther:
Lawther was born in Ireland and immigrated to the United States in his teens. He came to Red Wing in 1855 when he was 23 years old. He worked as a real estate agent, a banker, grain merchant, and property owner, and quickly built a reputation as a sound businessman and shrewd investor. He built a landmark octagon-shaped home in Red Wing that still stands today. He moved back to Ireland to spend the last 15 years of his life, but his connections to Minnesota were strong enough that when he died, Minnesota newspapers published his obituary.

What You Will Need for This Lesson:

  • Access to a computer lab with Internet capability for at least one 40 minute class period.
  • Photocopies of the worksheet and a printed key (download both in the Student Materials section of the site).
  • If you have not already done so, we encourage you to explore the site for yourself ahead of time to become familiar with the navigation and features available to you and your students.

Skills Objectives:
The student will be able to:

  1. access primary sources online for research and study
  2. identify and summarize the different kinds of sources in the exercise
  3. identify advantages and disadvantages to using particular primary sources
  4. explain and synthesize source information to evaluate its usefulness and reliability

Using this Lesson in Your Classroom:
When the students are in the computer lab, lead them through the following sequence (you may wish to use an overhead projector screen):

  1. Go to the Communities web site.
  2. Click on Communities on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. Click on Red Wing.
  4. Click on James Lawther.
  5. Read the introductory material on Lawther and click Enter.
  6. This will bring you to a screen with a photograph of Lawther. This is the first primary source the students will encounter. Let them know that they can see a larger version of this photograph by clicking on the View button underneath the thumbnail image. Show students the Activity button and have them click on it to view questions and possible answers about each source.
  7. Once students have studied this photograph and read the appropriate questions about it in the Activity section, direct them to the other sources that are accessible through the blue menu bar running across the top of the page. Each of these buttons will take them to another source to explore.
  8. Remind students to use the Activity button on each source to help direct their research.
  9. When the students have completed studying each source and reading the questions for each item, they should be able to complete the worksheet they were given (see below).

What Your Students Will See in This Lesson Online:
Below is a listing of each source provided on the James Lawther section of the web site and a transcript of the activity questions for each source. (The questions are found on the site by clicking on the Activity button.)

Photo 1
Click on the Photo 1 button to open the primary source.

Lawther immigrated to the United States from Ireland when he was a teenager. At the age of 23, he arrived in Red Wing and began work as a real estate agent, grain merchant and banker. He earned a reputation as a fair businessman and a wise investor.

Letter 1

Click on the Letter 1 button to open the primary source.
This is a letter informing Lawther that he has been elected mayor of Red Wing.

    2.1) Lawther was elected mayor of Red Wing in 1861. What important event in United States history also occurred in that year?

    Possible Answer: The Civil War began in 1861 and Red Wing was one of the first communities to respond with volunteers for military service.

    2.2) What might it mean that Lawther was elected in a special election?

    Possible Answer: Special elections are held when events have caused the previous leader to leave office, either for reasons of death, scandal, or resignation. In this case the previous mayor, Edward L. Baker, left Red Wing to join the Third Minnesota Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War.

    2.3) Why would Lawther need to take an oath to hold the office of mayor?

    Possible Answer: Public officials are often required to take oaths of loyalty to the laws they are elected to protect and uphold. They must promise to obey the laws of their district or state.

    2.4) What do you think the title, "Esq." means at the beginning of this letter?

    Possible Answer: "Esq." stands for the term esquire, which was a title given to a landowner in England to show respect.

Document 1
Click on the Document 1 button to open the primary source.
This is an invoice for building materials purchased by Lawther from Edward L. Baker's hardware store in Red Wing.

    3.1) This invoice lists items Lawther purchased from a local hardware store. Since most of the items are materials that would be used for building, what can we assume Lawther is doing with the materials?

    Possible Answer: From this listing of supplies, it would seem that Lawther is beginning a large building project of some kind. He may be building a number of homes or businesses.

    3.2) If Lawther is doing some construction in the Red Wing area, why might it be important that this hardware dealer is also located in Red Wing?

    Possible Answer: The transportation of goods was very costly during this time, and dealers would be able to offer better prices to local customers because these buyers would not have to pay as much to transport the goods. It would also be helpful for a buyer to know the seller well and be able to obtain credit for large purchases, as is shown on this invoice.

    3.3) How did Lawther pay for the goods he purchased?

    Possible Answer: The lower portion of the invoice shows four payments made by Lawther in various forms. Since it was not likely that someone would have large amounts of cash on hand at this time, many purchases were made on credit and paid in smaller installments over a period of time.

    3.4) By studying this invoice, what details about the time period can we learn?

    Possible Answer: We can assume that, because this invoice is handwritten, typewriters or adding machines were not in common use. We can also learn much about what materials were used in building construction and how much those items would cost to purchase.

News 1
Click on the News 1 button to open the primary source.
A report of Lawther's death appeared in this Minnesota newspaper.

    4.1) Since Lawther lived in Ireland at the end of his life, what does the fact that his death notice was published in the Litchfield newspaper tell us about him?

    Possible Answer: The fact that this notice was published in the Litchfield paper suggests that there were still people in the area who knew him or had worked with him and would want to know about his death. It suggests that Lawther was an important person in the town even though he had not lived in the area for quite some time.

    4.2) What contributions does this note mention that Lawther made to the local community?

    Possible Answer: The note mentions his activities with the Camp Brog camping party and his giving of real estate and public buildings in the area.

    4.3) This notice was published in the Litchfield newspaper one week after Lawther's death in Ireland. How do you think the news was able to travel back to Minnesota that quickly in 1916?

    Possible Answer: The most likely option is that the news was transferred via transcontinental cable to some family members or friends in the area. These family members or friends probably notified the newspaper, which published the article.

    4.4) What might we be able to guess about the other people listed in the article? Why would a death notice for one person be likely to list the names of other people who are not related?

    Possible Answer: It is likely that the other persons, members of the Camp Brog camping party, still lived or were known in the area of Litchfield. Listing those names was a way of identifying more specifically who Lawther was in the community and what connections he had made there.

Letter 2
Click on the Letter 2 button to open the primary source.
This letter informs Lawther of the sale of grain to a Cannon Falls mill.

    5.1) What is the difference between a "new crop" and an "old crop"?

    Possible Answer: From the letter, we can guess that a new crop is just recently harvested because the "old crops" listed have an added charge of five cents a bushel for grain storage.

    5.2) What do you think the "No 1" and "No 2" labels for the old grain might mean?

    Possible Answer: These were ways in which the mill could rank the quality of the grain by its moisture content and usefulness. There were three grades of grain, and grade 1 was the best.

    5.3) Why would Lawther possibly want to sell his grain at this time?

    Possible Answer: Since he is selling both old and new grain, we can assume that grain prices at this time were fairly high and it would be profitable for him to sell. Farmers often keep their grain in storage until prices rise and make it more profitable to sell.

    5.4) How might we be able to learn more about Lawther's farming business?

    Possible Answer: Studying other mill records could give us an indication of the amount of grain he produced, but the most reliable source would probably be Lawther's own papers and receipts from his business practices or land purchases. There may also be federal government records, such as the agricultural census, showing the land he owned and what is produced.

Document 2
Click on the Document 2 button to open the primary source.
This shipping receipt documents a package shipped by Lawther.

    6.1) The North-Western Express Company has agreed to ship gold worth $400 for Lawther. In what cases will the company not insure delivery of his package?

    Possible Answer: They will not be liable (or responsible) for loss or damage of the shipment due to fire, improper packaging for transport, or fragile "fabrics" (contents) that have not been marked fragile. If the package is worth more than $50, the value must be documented on the receipt in order to obtain the full value of the package in the event of loss or damage.

    6.2) Why might Lawther wish to deliver something as valuable as $400 by rail and not in person?

    Possible Answer: The trip from Red Wing to Henderson, Minnesota (north of Mankato) was probably a lengthy one, and the express companies were common, convenient, reliable, and inexpensive ways to ship goods.

    6.3) If the North-Western Express Company needed to ship something to Europe, how would they accomplish it?

    Possible Answer: Their listing on this receipt shows that they can ship to other parts of the United States, Canada, and Europe by connecting with the American Express Company.

    6.4) What might the "perils of navigation" suggested on this receipt mean?

    Possible Answer: The company insures that all packages will be delivered safely unless circumstances beyond the company's control prevent this from happening. Unavoidable problems that might occur during the course of transportation include a train wreck, extremely bad weather, or a crime.

Thought Questions for online Exploration:
During the online lesson, your students should complete the accompanying worksheet for this section. (Download from the student materials the pdf file containing the worksheet and key.) The questions for this worksheet are provided below. Since questions relating to specific sources are used during the online activity, the following worksheet questions are designed to help students synthesize and apply the material they have learned from the online activity and to analyze the kinds of information and the credibility of various types of primary sources when taken as a whole.

  1. On this site, you were able to study an invoice from a hardware store that showed items purchased by Lawther. What can invoices like this tell us about a person's business? What information can they not tell us? Why might it be difficult to understand what a person is like just from knowing what they buy? What other sources do we need to get a clearer picture of someone's life and priorities?

  2. James Lawther was an immigrant from Ireland who became a success in Red Wing and a major contributor to the town's development. What kinds of obstacles might one have to overcome as an immigrant?What kinds of sources might we be able to find that would give us some hints about the kinds of challenges Lawther and other immigrants may have faced?

  3. The sources on the site about James Lawther can tell you much about his business dealings, but not much about his personal life. What sources might we look for if we wanted to know more about his home life and family?

  4. Lawther was not only a businessman but also a politician. How do you think his experience in business could have helped him in his work as Red Wing's mayor? How do you think his work as mayor could have helped his work in business?

After your students have completed these questions, you may either collect them to be graded and discussed later or go over them in class as a discussion outline. When you downloaded the file with these questions you also downloaded a teacher's key for your use.

Extending the Lesson: Historical Themes James Lawther
You can also use the sources provided on this site to encourage higher-order thinking about a number of historical themes and issues that relate to Lawther's life in Minnesota. Below are possible activities and discussion starters to extend student application of the content material provided in the sources. The information provided in the sources about Lawther does not give us a comprehensive picture of these issues, but it can serve as an introduction to a theme or as supplementary material to enhance your work with a theme that is already part of your curriculum.

Possible Themes:
Business and the Community
Effect of One Person on a Community

Theme One:
Business and the Community

The student will be able to:

  1. Describe, interpret, and evaluate the role of business in their community
  2. Evaluate and define what could be done to improve or keep businesses in their community
Class Discussion:
Allow students time to discuss these questions in small groups or as a class.

  • James Lawther was a prominent local businessman in Red Wing. What role do your students think that businesses have in local community decisions? Lawther contributed much to the city of Red Wing, both in real estate and in personal financial contributions. What responsibilities do you think local businesspeople might have toward the community that supports them?

  • Ask students to think about the reputation business has in their community. Do some businesses have a better reputation than others? Why do you think this is so? What can businesses do to improve the impression they make on the community? What can community members do to better understand the challenges businesses face?

  • Have students list all of the businesses they use in a week's time. Why do they choose some businesses over others? How do they expect to be treated when walking into a business? Discuss the role of customer service and customer etiquette in business transactions. What should businesses do to show respect for their customers? What should customers do to show respect for business? How can one person make a difference in your willingness to visit a business?
Optional activities:
  • Have students prepare and run a classroom business fair. Students could research and play the roles of different kinds of businesses in their community. Have them demonstrate for the class the job that their business can do, how much that service might cost the consumer, and how their business works to serve its customers in the best possible manner. Discuss how the loss of a business in a town can effect that town's economy and productivity. How would your personal life be changed if a business you use frequently (grocery store, gas station, department store, etc...) moved to another town? What inconveniences would that cause you? What actions by city government or local community members might help keep businesses in town?

  • Lawther was involved in a number of building projects which required him to purchase large quantities of building supplies. Use the invoice list on the site to make a "shopping list" for your class. Prepare a list of building supplies and have students use newspaper ads for hardware stores, ads on the Internet, or visits to their local hardware store to compare prices from 100 years ago to prices of today for the same materials. Discuss the investment required to build or renovate a house or business and its risks and benefits.

  • Have students research what it takes to start and maintain a business. They should write a business plan for a business they might wish to run. The business plan should outline their investment costs, their location, goals for the business in the first year, and the products they intend to offer and how those products will be marketed. Have each student present their business plan to the class in an oral report. Students may wish to go into business with a partner.

  • Ask students to figure out how to transport building supplies or inventory from a city across the country to their store in town. Students should research methods and costs of shipping their supplies and how long it might take to reach their store. Ask students to evaluate which shipping method would be fastest, most economical, and safest for the product. Students should prepare a chart or map showing the route their product would take to arrive in their store.

Theme Two:
Effect of One Person on a Community

The student will be able to:

  1. Evaluate and describe the effect one person can have on a community
  2. Describe and demonstrate things they can do to help their community
Class Discussion:

  • Have each student choose one person in their family, school, or community who has made a big impact on their lives. Students should work as a class to create possible interivew questions for their person. Have students interview their person individually and prepare a report describing the person's life and how they have positively influenced the student. Have students consider what they have learned from the person, any challenges the person has had to overcome, and how they can make a difference in the life of someone else. You might even suggest that students could have a classroom open house or reception for their "positive influences."

  • Have students list the ways in which local community leaders are recognized. How are these leaders thanked for their contributions to the community? Who are the leaders in your community that might not be thanked or noticed as much as others? How could we thank or honor them for their work?

Optional activities:

  • Ask students to list all of the activities they do in their community -- sports teams, church organizations, 4H, etc. How do those activities promote their community and encourage growth in their community? What benefits do students receive from these groups? How can a lack of groups like these affect a community in a negative way? What can be done in your community to ensure that these groups remain active? Students can prepare a poster or bulletin board describing how these community groups and activities influence their lives. They may wish to send notes of thanks to people or organizations which have especially helped them.

  • Have each student research the history of your community and focus on the work of one person who made a difference in the early life of the town. What role did they play in political or social life in your community? Are there changes they made that we can still see today? How is the person remembered or memorialized by the town? Students may wish to talk to descendants of the person or read old newspaper articles about the person's work. Have students report to the class using a collage, informative skit, or oral report.

  • Ask students to make a list of things that they can do to help their community. They may suggest such things as picking up litter, organizing a youth center, tutoring younger students, or helping senior citizens with household chores. Encourage students to choose items on this list to complete and report back to the class. If possible, the entire class could choose a task as a class project and work on it together.

  • Ask students to find examples of local volunteers or philanthropists and their impact on your community. What buildings, parks or other landmarks in your town have been donated by local leaders? What role do volunteers in your community play? You may wish to invite a local volunteer coordinator to your class to discuss ways in which students can help their community and those in need.

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