Lesson Plan

Life on an Island: Early Settlers off the Rock-Bound Coast of Maine

The Blue Duck Island Store

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Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 2 Standard 3A: The student understands colonial economic life and labor systems in the Americas.
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies
Thinking Skills:
Remembering: Recalling or recognizing information ideas, and principles. Understanding: Understand the main idea of material heard, viewed, or read. Interpret or summarize the ideas in own words. Applying: Apply an abstract idea in a concrete situation to solve a problem or relate it to a prior experience. Analyzing: Break down a concept or idea into parts and show the relationships among the parts. Creating: Bring together parts (elements, compounds) of knowledge to form a whole and build relationships for NEW situations. Evaluating: Make informed judgements about the value of ideas or materials. Use standards and criteria to support opinions and views.


1. To list three reasons why it is important to remember the ways of life of everyday people;
2. To name and describe three different occupations associated with northern coastal life;
3. To describe the influence of the Maine coastal environment on island populations by explaining its impact on two families;
4. To explain why island settlement was more desirable than mainland settlement for many people;
5. To list reasons why the preservation of local history is important.


Time Period: 19th century
Topics: The lesson could be used in units on the settlement of northern New England or on life in the early national period. Students will strengthen their skills of observation, research, and analysis of a variety of sources.


Off the jagged, rocky coast of Maine lie approximately 5,000 islands ranging in size from ledge outcroppings to the 80,000 acre Mount Desert Island. During the mid-18th century many of these islands began to be inhabited by settlers eager to take advantage of this interface between land and sea.

Living on an island was not easy, however. The granite islands have a very thin layer of topsoil that is usually highly acidic due to the spruce forests dominating the coastal vegetation. Weather conditions are harsh. Summers are often cool with periods of fog and rain, and winters--although milder along the coast than inland--bring pounding storms with 60-mile-per-hour winds and waves 20 to 25 feet high. Since all trading, freight- shipping, and transportation was by water, such conditions could isolate islanders for long periods of time.
On a calm day, the two-and-one-half-mile boat trip from Mount Desert Island to Little Cranberry Island takes approximately 20 minutes. As the boat winds through the fishing boats in the protected harbor and approaches the dock, two buildings command the eye's attention. The Blue Duck Ships' Store is a one-and-one-half story, gabled, wooden structure standing where the island meets the harbor. Directly behind the Blue Duck is the Islesford Historical Museum, a one-and-one-half story brick Georgian Revival building. These two buildings, part of Acadia National Park, preserve the memory of those who lived on the Cranberry Isles. Within the museum are family memorabilia, tools, and the tales of everyday life that speak of independence and self-reliance.

Lesson Hook/Preview

Despite hardships, at the time of early settlement in the 18th century the islands off the coast of Maine were more coveted than the mainland. Islands were easier to hold against attack and they provided their own boundary for keeping livestock--fencing was seldom needed. Island living also was convenient for the many people who made their living by the sea.

Edwin Hadlock, a local entrepreneur who lived on Little Cranberry Island, built the structure known today as the Blue Duck in about 1850. He and his sons Gilbert and William used it as a ships' store for at least 25 years. The Blue Duck is an unadorned wood frame structure that represents a simple building style common to maritime villages in the 19th century. After 1875, it operated as a general store. About 1918, Doctor William Otis Sawtelle, a college professor, purchased the building. Sawtelle gave the store its current name, the Blue Duck, after discovering many duck decoys stored there. He painted the decoys Prussian blue and scattered them around the property.

As a summer resident, Doctor Sawtelle became interested in the history of maritime New England, especially Little Cranberry Island, and formed the Islesford Historical Society. By 1919, the Blue Duck was used to exhibit various historical objects and memorabilia collected by the Society. It soon became apparent that the ever expanding and valuable collection required a permanent home. By 1927, under Sawtelle's leadership, friends of the Society contributed sufficient funds to erect a slate roofed brick and granite building--the Islesford Historical Museum.

The Islesford Historical Museum collection preserves both documents and artifacts. Name boards for tall ships, lifesaving gear salvaged from shipwrecks, tools, instruments, and locally-built ship models identify a seafaring people. Wind-up clocks, a candlestick stand, china, and pewter housewares suggest the affluence of some of the inhabitants. Well-designed furniture such as a cradle, a china cabinet, and an assortment of elegant chairs signify an island people who appreciated beauty. Needlework, a cooper's bench, farming tools, and fishing gear bear witness to generations of independent and self-sustaining Americans. In 1948, the museum and the Blue Duck became part of Acadia National Park.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Acadia National Park
Acadia National Park is a unit of the National Park System. The park's website details the history of the park and visitation information. Included on the site are photographs, environmental education, and a naturalist journal. A comprehensive bibliography is available on the Environmental Education page with such subjects as island life, maritime history, and the history of the Cranberry Isles and Maine. Also provided are suggestions for student literature.

The Cranberry Isles, Maine
The Cranberry Isles Web pages offer a wealth of information on the islands including information about the Gilleys of Baker Island, Life on Baker Island, the history of Cranberry Isles including early settlement with an account of the Hadlock family, and much more.

Lighthouse Resources:
National Park Service
The National Park Service's 
National Maritime Initiative specializes in preserving America's maritime heritage. Included on their website is information about Baker Island Light.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is a unit of the National Park System. The park's web pages offer an on-line visitor center that provides several unique perspectives on island living. Browse through the Apostle Islands Scrapbook for stories from the area's history, including an account titled "I Hate Lighthouses!," detailing what life was like for wives and children of lighthouse keepers.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse State Historic Park
Pigeon Point Lighthouse State Historic Park is a unit of the California State Park System. The park created a Virtual Tower Tour of Pigeon Point Lighthouse detailing how a light station was ran in the 19th century.

Maritime Resources:
The Mariners' Museum
Mariners' Museum in Newport News, VA features several on-line exhibits dealing with a variety of different maritime subjects including lighthouses and keepers.

National Maritime Museum Association
The National Maritime Museum Association features a history of the schooner, C.A. Thayer. Included in the history are facts about different commercial uses of schooners, living conditions on board, nautical terms, maritime terminology, and more.

Maritime Heritage Program
The National Park Service's Maritime Heritage Program works to advance awareness and understanding of the role of maritime affairs in the history of the United States by helping to interpret and preserve our maritime heritage. The program's web pages include information on National Park Service maritime parks, historic ships, lighthouses, and lifesaving stations.

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Last updated: October 12, 2018