Stepping onto the deck of Constitution was like walking into a forest of ropes. Hundreds of them ran up from the deck to the masts and yards above. By hauling on the right rope, deck-hands adjusted the sails and lifted heavy loads. For the heaviest lifts they used a capstan – a simple winch. But for most tasks, seamen just grabbed the rope and heaved. It was hard work, but not as hard as on under-manned merchant ships, where over-worked sailors sometimes died of exhaustion.
Simple Machines aboard Constitution
In this lesson plan, discover the “simple machines” on board Constitution, like this pulley system known as block and tackle. Learn about simple machines and send your students on a scavenger hunt searching for simple machines in “Explore Old Ironsides”, their classroom, or their home. Challenge them to create working prototypes of simple machines that could have made sailors’ lives easier.
Sea Chanties & Call-and-Response Poetry
Although Navy sailors were often required to work in silence, some merchant sailors during this period sang chanties to coordinate their work. For example, the refrain of the song indicated when to pull on a rope together, while singing a song made monotonous work less loathsome. For inspiration, try searching for sea chanties; some of our favorites are listed below. With this lesson plan, expose your students to sea chanties as an introduction to call-and-response poetry. By listening to examples together, students explore sea chanties and “work songs,” the language involved, and the reasons for using them. Students will write their own chanty or “work song” using creative writing to develop thematic connections.