Primary Source Packet: Letters of the 19th Century

Use primary sources in your classroom to analyze how 19th century letters can tell stories about the past and offer new perspectives about historical people and events.

Letters can shed great insight on the personal lives of their writers and provide context to better understand past eras. The handwritten letters in the packet and the corresponding guiding questions provide an avenue for integrating letters, and the stories they tell, into history curriculum.

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  • Reproductions of 16 original letters in two forms—original and transcribed
  • Letters are from children, mothers, soldiers, businessmen, politicians, sisters
  • Introduction for the teacher
  • Guiding questions for each letter

Letters included:

  • Margaret Hess to Lawrence Taliaferro, Sept. 23, 1836
  • Ard Godfrey to Wife, March 12, 1848
  • Dr. Alexander Garnett to unknown, March 27, 1855
  • James J. Hill to Grandmother, Aug. 1, 1856
  • Emily Ayres to Sister, Aug. 24, 1856
  • Florence and Frances Griswold to Grandma, Feb. 24, 186[?]
  • Elisabeth Dearmin to Gov. Ramsey, Sept. 28, 1861
  • P. Sandford to James Lawther, Nov. 13, 1861
  • Thomas Christie to Brother, July 19, 1862
  • C.C. Webster to Ignatius Donnelly, Oct. 2, 1862
  • Madison Bowler to Lizzie Bowler, Oct. 5, 1863
  • Charley Goddard to Mother, Nov. 1, 1863
  • Lizzie Bowler to Madison Bowler, Aug. 21, 1864
  • Moses Many Lightning Face to Stephen Riggs, April 17, 1865
  • Mary Carpenter to Cousin Laura, Aug. 18, 1871
  • G.A. Egge to Gov. Pillsbury, March 12, 1877

Emily Ayres to Sister, Aug. 24, 1856

Moses Many Lightning Face to Stephen Riggs, April 17, 1865

Academic standards alignment

The Letters of the 19th Century Primary Source Packet is designed to engage your students and enrich their ability to read and analyze historical letters. Incorporating these letters, or adapting the questions and activities for other letters, into your teaching will help meet your curricular objectives and academic standards, whether they are content or skills related. 

We have aligned this packet with state and national standards and benchmarks for grades 6–12. The links below outline the standards alignment for this packet.

National standards

Minnesota standards

Related resources