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Travel in the Eighteenth Century

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People in the eighteenth century traveled very little compared to today's mobile society. Most travel was for the purpose of attending church, transporting produce, purchasing supplies or perhaps visiting neighbors. Colonists who lived in rural areas went to town once or twice a year, possibly to attend a session at the local county court. Generally speaking, only government officials, merchants and planters traveled for business or pleasure. These people of different social levels used various modes of transportation for different purposes and destinations. By looking at how people traveled, we can learn more about life in the eighteenth century.

Time Requirement

Two or three class periods



As a result of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • identify various forms of eighteenth-century travel
  • make generalizations about the people that utilized eighteenth-century modes of transportation

Setting the Stage

People today use a variety of ways to travel. Using the Graphic Organizer: Transportation, have the class brainstorm and list modes of transportation used today. Discuss with the students who might use each mode, where the final destination might be, and the purposes for using this form of transportation.

Discuss with students how they think travel was different for the colonists during the eighteenth century than it is today. Record students' responses on the chalkboard or on a flipchart. Inform students that they will come back to these responses when they have finished investigating travel in the eighteenth century.


Divide the class into collaborative groups that contain no more than four students each. Distribute a set of Traveler Cards to each group.

Ask each student to select one of the Traveler's Cards. Have them, as a group, think about who is traveling, where that person is going, and why that person is going there. When students have had a few minutes to brainstorm together, give each group a copy of the Graphic Organizer Travel in the Eighteenth Century. Ask the students to complete, as a team, the first three columns. Inform them that each group will select a spokesperson who will report its findings to the class.

Ask each group to report its findings to the class. Let students know that there may be several answers to the questions on the Graphic Organizer. After each group has reported, allow time for discussion if some groups have different opinions.

Next give each group the set of Transportation Cards. Ask each group to discuss these various methods of eighteenth-century travel. As a group, ask them to decide how their persons might have traveled to their destinations. When each group has made their choices and has come to a consensus, ask them to complete column four on the Graphic Organizer Travel in the Eighteenth Century. Inform the students that each group will have its spokesperson defend its choice.

In concluding the activity for the Graphic Organizer Travel in the Eighteenth Century, have students refer to the Graphic Organizer: Transportation and complete column five by listing a twenty-first-century mode of transportation. Discuss with students the changes that have taken place in methods of travel over the last three hundred years.

As a culminative activity, refer to the chalkboard or flipchart used at beginning of lesson. Ask students if there is anything they would change or add. Have them defend any changes they make.

Alternate Plan

Display Transportation Cards on a bulletin board. The teacher or a student creates a Traveler Card each day for the whole class to consider and add to the bulletin board display.

If time permits, have each collaborative group research four other eighteenth-century persons. Have each group write a Traveler Card and a Transportation Card for each of its four persons. Then have groups exchange cards and follow the instructions under Strategies/Procedures.


Students select an eighteenth-century character and write a journal about a trip this character would have made. Included in this journal entry should be a description of the person, where that person in going, why the person is traveling and the mode of transportation that person is using.

This lesson plan was developed by Patricia Krzich of Abraham Lincoln Elementary School, Cupertino, California and members of the staff of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.